India to Nepal passenger train service inauguration

NEPAL: Cross-border passenger services from Jayanagar in the Indian state of Bihar to Janakpur and Kurtha in Nepal were inaugurated on April 2, with the dispatch of the first train on the 34·9 km cross-border railway following conversion to 1 676 mm gauge.

The first train was flagged off by Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi via a live video link from Hyderabad House in New Delhi. On board the train were Keshab Kumar Sharma, Secretary at the Nepalese Ministry of Physical Infrastructure & Transport, and Anupam Sharma, General Manager of India’s East Central Railway, along with representatives of Ircon International and Konkan Railway Corp.

A 762 mm gauge railway between Jayanagar and the pilgrim centre at Janakpur opened in 1937. This 28 km line connected at Jaynagar with a 1 676 mm gauge line from Samastipur on what is now IR’s East Central Railway. It was later extended to Bijalpura, but services were cut back to Janakpur again in 2001 following flood damage.

Under a bilateral MoU signed in February 2010, India’s Ministry of Railways agreed to rebuild the line to broad gauge as the first in a programme of cross-border rail links between the two countries.

Services were suspended in March 2014 to pave the way for rebuilding, with the work being managed by Ircon International. The Indian government has provided grants totalling 8·768bn Nepalese rupees. The alignment is suitable for 100 km/h passenger and 65 km/h freight operations.

Reconstruction is reported to be complete on the remaining 17 km from Kurtha to Bijalpura. Planning is underway for a further extension to Bardibas, once the Nepalese government makes the required land available. This would take the line to a total length of 68·7 km, of which 3 km is in the Madhubani district of Bihar state and the remainder serves the densely populated, agricultural districts of Dhanusha, Mahotari and Siraha in Nepal.

Operating agreement

All operations and maintenance on the rebuilt line will be undertaken by Nepal Rail Company Ltd, which is initially running two trains each way per day.

NRC has acquired via Ircon two 1 600 hp DEMUs built by the Integral Coach Factory in Chennai; these were purchased in 2020, with the Rs524m cost being met by the Nepalese government. Each five-car set has one air-conditioned and four non-AC coaches, with a nominal seating capacity of 300 passengers and standing room for 700. NRC has awarded an O&M Support contract to Konkan Railway Corp, while Indian Railways is providing additional expertise and staff training.

Trial running was undertaken on the Nepalese section in July 2021 and a ‘standard operating procedure’ for running passenger and goods trains on the line was signed by the two countries on October 6 2021. The Indian section was approved by the Commissioner of Railway Safety in December, after which the line was formally handed over to the government of Nepal.

Other cross-border links in the joint programme include the existing broad gauge connection between Raxaul on Indian side and a container terminal at Birgunj, a proposed 18·6 km line from Jogbani to Biratnagar, a 12·1 km line from Nepalganj Road to Nepalganj, a 15·3 km route from Nautanwa to Bhairahwa, and a 70 km connection from New Jalpaiguri to Panitanki and Kakrabitta. The Biratnagar scheme was included in the 2010 grant agreement along with the Jaynagar – Bardibas project.

‘Such cross-border railway schemes will make a great contribution to smooth, hassle-free exchange of people between the two countries’, Modi explained during the inauguration ceremony.