28 Feb 2019
Belt and Road Backing Set to Fast-track Kathmandu Monorail Project
US$1 billion project set to cut congestion in the Nepalese capital and interchange with expanded ring-road facility.
Funding channelled via the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is set to play a significant role in helping to ease traffic flows in Kathmandu, Nepal's ever-congested capital. In specific terms, a deal signed late last year will see Chinese investment and know-how funnelled into developing a new monorail system for the city. Assuming all the necessary planning and logistical clearances are secured, the new service is expected to come into operation at some point in 2022.
The project took a major step forward late last year when the China Railway 25th Bureau Group, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC), officially signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) regarding the preparation of a detailed project report (DPR) for the proposed monorail. As well as detailing the likely environmental impact of the project, the DPR will also formulate the initial design specifications of the monorail, as well as the required technical and construction capacities. In addition, it will provide detailed cost and traffic-flow impact estimates, and lay out a timetable for the different phases of the project and highlight its key benefits.
The commissioning of the DPR follows on from the receipt of a detailed feasibility study produced by CRCC in September last year, which estimated the overall cost of the project to be about US$1.02 billion. Under the terms of this initial study, it is envisaged that the monorail network will feature 21 stations and have three principal routes – Koteshwor-Kalanki, Kalanki-Maharajgunj and Maharajgunj-Koteshwor. In total, some 7km of the network will extend into Lalitpur, a city to the immediate south of the capital, with the remainder running throughout Kathmandu. Once completed, the monorail will be first of its kind in the country.
To be developed under the Build, Own, Operate and Transfer (BOOT) financing model, the 29km railway should be operational within three years, assuming there are no delays to the acquisition of the required land. Laying out a preliminary timetable, the feasibility study concluded: "After initial approval from Nepal's government, a detailed project report will be prepared within six months. It is then envisaged that the whole of the construction work can be completed within two-and-a-half years."
In a significant move for local transport needs, the monorail route is closely aligned with the Kathmandu Ring Road, another major transport route and one that is undergoing a major China-backed upgrade. The 27km route has long and historic ties to China, with the mainland having played a key role in its initial construction in 1977. Those ties were renewed in 2011 when China agreed to provide a US$40 million grant to fund the road's expansion.
This planned upgrade will see the whole of the existing road widened into an eight-lane highway, complete with a two-way bicycle lane and a pedestrian pathway. A new bus interchange facility will be constructed, as will a series of car parks, a flyover and three pedestrian overpasses.
In 2013, the Shanghai Construction Group was contracted to work on the first phase of the three-stage project – the upgrade of the 10.4km Koteshwor-Kalanki stretch of the ring-road. Despite a number of delays – most notably those occasioned by the devastating 2015 earthquake – this initial phase became fully operational last year.
The second phase – the upgrade of the 8.2km stretch connecting Kalanki and Maharajgunj – is temporarily on hold, pending required design approval from the Nepalese Department of Roads (DoR). Confident that this will prove to be a brief hiatus, Ramesh Kumar Singh, the DoR's spokesperson, said: "At present, the Chinese team is waiting on the approval of the second detailed project design report, which includes a number of elements related to pedestrian safety, as well as the incorporation of a wheelchair-friendly road concept. There is every sign, though, that the government will soon approve the design and accelerate the project in line with the strategy currently in place."
Geoff de Freitas, Special Correspondent, Kathmandu