Planned China-Nepal railway to boost connectivity and trade, but pre-feasibility analysis shows difficulty
(Photo: ChinaDaily)

China’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday, August 10 reiterated a plan to use China’s aid funds for Nepal to support the feasibility study for a cross-border railway linking China and the South Asian nation, injecting optimism into enhanced connectivity that’ll give a big economic boost to the landlocked Himalayan country.

The link would enable Nepal-origin products to readily access China’s huge market and facilitate bilateral investment and trade flows, a veteran regional affairs observer said, envisioning the cross-border railway to be a significant part of a rail network spanning China, Nepal and India if regional integration makes good progress.

During the meeting with Nepali Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka in Qingdao, Shandong Province, Wang Yi announced that China will use aid funds for Nepal to support the feasibility study of the China-Nepal cross-border railway, and will send experts to Nepal to conduct the survey work within this year.

The two sides also agreed to build the Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network, according to a statement.

Pre-feasibility analysis: 9 years of construction and about 4.7 billion US dollars of cost

The Himalayas are the highest mountains in the world on average, and 10 of the 14 peaks above 8,000 meters in the world are located here. The difficulty of building a railway under such geographical conditions can be imagined.

In 2006, Tibet’s first railway, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway started its operation. In 2014, the first extension of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway was launched, and the railway has been extended to Shigatse, Tibet. The railway extending from Shigatse to the Chinese-Nepalese border has long been planned.

As planned, the railway will connect Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, and Gyilong County, Tibet, with a total length of 121 kilometers.

In fact, in 2018, China Railway First Survey and Design Institute Group Co.,Ltd (CRFSDIG) has conducted a technical and pre-feasibility study on this proposed project.

The unpublished research report pointed out that the project will be one of the most difficult and risky railway construction projects in the world due to complex geological conditions such as high terrain and unstable slopes, and the region is prone to high-intensity earthquakes. The report also pointed out that the slope from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to the valley floor of Nepal is too steep, and the railway will pass through Langtang National Park, the nature reserves of the Rolwaling region and the Mount Everest region in Nepal.

According to previous media reports, the pre-feasibility study report of CRFSDIG Institute stated that the railway project connecting Gyilong in Tibet and Kathmandu in Nepal will take 9 years and cost 30.15 billion yuan (about 4.7 billion US dollars). It also noted that a feasibility study on the internal structure of the land for the railway route could also lead to different or higher cost estimates. About 98 percent of the railway on the Nepalese side will be made up of tunnels and bridges, and the cost could be much higher than previously estimated.