China pushing trans-Himalayan rail project with strategic aims

Kathmandu [Nepal], April 2: With aims to push rail connectivity to border areas, China is pursuing the Nepal-China Railway Project to fulfill its strategic interests.

While China had made rapid progress on rail connectivity within its borders, on the Nepalese side of the border, talk of a trans-Himalayan railway is only political tokenism, reported The HK Post.

The Chinese embassy in Kathmandu reportedly conveyed to the Nepalese officials that Beijing was prepared to sign an instrument to facilitate aid for the feasibility study of the proposed China-Nepal Cross Border Railway(CNR) project, connecting Keyrong in Tibet to Kathmandu.

Earlier, the technical study/pre-feasibility study of the proposed 121km railway from Keyrong to Kathmandu was conducted by the China Railway First Survey and Design Institute (CRFSDI) in 2018.

The CRFSDI study, which has not been made public, observed that the CNR project was one of the most difficult and risky railway construction projects in the world due to the complex geology such as high terrain, slope instability and the region being prone to high-intensity earthquakes.

The gradient from the Tibetan plateau to the low valleys in Nepal is too steep and the railway inside Nepal would pass through protected areas in Langtang, Rolwaling and Mt Everest regions.

The CRFSDI study estimated that it would take nine years and Yuan 30.15 billion (USD 4.7 billion) (equal to Nepal’s total revenue in 2018) to develop the Keyrong-Kathmandu rail track, reported The HK Post.

It also pointed out that the feasibility study to be carried out by studying the inner structure of the land of the CNR route may lead to different/higher estimates. About 98 per cent of the railway on the Nepalese side will consist of tunnels and bridges and the project will cost far more than the present estimation.

Similarly, another study, “Feasibility of China-Nepal Railway and Collaborative Construction of Belt and Road by Two Nations”, conducted by Chongyang Institute for Financial studies, Renmin University, pointed that a minimum 40 years would be required to recover the investment in the CNR project.

Further, during the visit (March 25-27) of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Nepal, Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba reportedly indicated that his country was not interested in Chinese loans and requested for more grant assistance, reported The HK Post.

It appears that Nepal was aware that the Kathmandu-China rail connection would prove to be costly and difficult and Nepal in any case would be unable to bear the financial cost of building a difficult and expensive tunnel across the Himalayas.

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