Nepal res­ur­rect­ing rail­ways as China, In­dia vie for in­flu­ence

New Straits Times - - Business / World -

KATH­MANDU: Three years af­ter its last train hit the buf­fers, land­locked Nepal is build­ing a new rail­way net­work to boost its ail­ing econ­omy — helped by the ri­valry be­tween its pow­er­ful neigh­bours, China and In­dia.

The rail­way to In­dia was a life­line for the small south­ern fron­tier town of Janakpur, used to im­port ev­ery­thing from sweets to clothes and cos­met­ics and fu­elling a vi­brant bor­der econ­omy.

But it fell into dis­re­pair af­ter years of ne­glect and since 2014 the train has sat sta­tion­ary, its rust­ing car­cass now a play­ground for chil­dren, while Janakpur’s mar­kets are empty.

“When the train was run­ning, we would have a lot of busi­ness. I was eas­ily pro­vid­ing (for) my fam­ily,” said Shyam Sah, whose small fam­ily-run cos­met­ics shop has suf­fered an 80 per cent drop in prof­its since the rail­way closed.

Now it is be­ing re­built with In­dian back­ing, one of three new rail lines — one funded by China in the north and a third by Nepal it­self — that the coun­try hopes will help boost in­ter­na­tional trade.

Nepal re­mains largely iso­lated from the global econ­omy, de­pen­dent on aid and re­mit­tances.

Growth slowed dra­mat­i­cally af­ter a 2015 earth­quake but is ex­pected to nor­malise at five per cent from next year – one of the slow­est rates in South Asia — ac­cord­ing to the World Bank.

In re­cent years it has courted its two large neigh­bours for in­vest­ment in an at­tempt to plug it­self into a rail net­work that links the far eastern reaches of Asia with Europe.

This year, Bei­jing pledged US$8.3 bil­lion (RM35.67 bil­lion) to build roads and hy­dropower plants in Nepal, dwarf­ing In­dia’s com­mit­ments of US$317 mil­lion.

Fea­si­bil­ity stud­ies are also un­der­way for a Bei­jing-backed rail­way con­nect­ing here to Lhasa in Ti­bet, cut­ting straight through the Hi­malayas at an es­ti­mated cost of US$8 bil­lion.

Ankit Panda, se­nior editor at The Diplo­mat mag­a­zine, said that could be a game-changer for the small coun­try.

“The rail line with China holds po­ten­tial de­pend­ing on the de­mand side of the equa­tion, on how China al­lows Nepal to lever­age that link for com­mer­cial growth op­por­tu­ni­ties,” he said.

The project is part of its “One Belt, One Road” ini­tia­tive, a mas­sive global in­fra­struc­ture pro­gramme to con­nect Chi­nese com­pa­nies to new mar­kets around the world.

New Delhi is fund­ing the re­con­struc­tion of the Janakpur line, re­build­ing the tracks to carry broad-gauge trains that will al­low it to con­nect to the rest of the sub­con­ti­nent’s ex­pan­sive rail net­work.

Mean­while Nepal is build­ing a 945km line that will cut across the south­ern plains from east to west.

Nearly a third of the track has been built, but con­struc­tion has stalled for lack of funds and it is not clear when it work will be fin­ished. AFP


Nepali chil­dren play­ing near aban­doned rail­way car­riages of the Nepal Rail­way Cor­po­ra­tion Ltd in Janakpur, some 300km south of Kath­mandu.

The rail­way has fallen into dis­re­pair af­ter years of ne­glect.

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