Nepal revives railways as China, India vie for influence

Three years after his last train hit buffers, Nepal is building a new rail network to boost its struggling economy – aided by rivalry between its powerful neighbors, China and India.

The railway to India was a lifeline for the small town of Janakpur, south of the border, used to import everything from sweets to clothing and cosmetics and fueling a vibrant border economy.

But he fell in bad shape after years of neglect and, since 2014, the train has been sitting, his rusty carcass is now a playground for local children, while the markets of Janakpur are empty.

"When the train was running, we would have a lot of business. I was providing my family easily," said Shyam Sah, whose small, family – managed cosmetics store suffered a 80% Of the profits from the closed railway.

Now it is rebuilt with Indian support, one of the three new railway lines – one financed by China to the north and a third by Nepal itself – that the country hopes to help boost trade international.

Nepal remains largely isolated from the world economy, depends on aid and remittances.

Growth slowed considerably after an earthquake in 2015, but is expected to normalize to 5% from 2018 – one of the slowest rates in South Asia – according to the World Bank.

In recent years he has courted his two big neighbors to invest in an attempt to plug into a rail network that connects the extreme extreme regions of Asia with Europe.

But geography is not on his side.

The Himalayas form a natural border between Nepal and China, largely dependent on India – with which it shares an open border of 1,400 kilometers (900 miles) – for most of its Imports and exports.

In recent years, Kathmandu has retreated to Beijing as part of a nationalist attempt to reduce the country's dependency in New Delhi.

China responded, strengthening its diplomatic relations with Nepal, mainly through large-scale infrastructure investments.

In 2017, Beijing pledged $ 8.3 billion to build roads and hydroelectric power plants in Nepal, annihilating India's commitments of $ 317 million.

Feasibility studies are also underway for a Beijing – backed railway linking Kathmandu to Lhasa in Tibet, crossing the Himalayas at an estimated cost of $ 8 billion.

Ankit Panda, editor of Diplomat magazine, said that this could be a game changer for the small country.

"The railway line with China has a potential depending on the demand side of the equation, on how China allows Nepal to leverage this link for opportunities for business growth," -he declares.

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