Nepal will breathe life into a disused passenger railway

Children have played on the railway since it was closed for an upgrade in January 2014, but now people are excited for the new train.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Children play inside an abandoned railway coach of the Nepal Railway Corporation Ltd, in Janakpur, Nepal, June 4, 2017.

Shrubs spring up around a rusted train engine in south-east Nepal, with carriages propped up on bricks and tall grass growing over abandoned wheels in mute testimony to years of neglect suffered by an abandoned railway line.

First built as a cargo line to carry wood from Nepal to India in 1937, it was once the lifeblood of the community in Janakpur, running 29 kilometres (18 miles) from Jainagar in India's neighbouring eastern state of Bihar.

Plants grow along the abandoned coach of a train at the workshop of Nepal Railways Corporation Ltd, in Janakpur, Nepal, June 4, 2017. (Reuters)

The train service, which eventually became a cheap way for travellers to cross the international border, closed in January 2014 for a $100-million project to upgrade the colonial-era narrow rail track into a broad-gauge line.

Now the only sign of life is laughing children, who chase each other through the disintegrating carriages, climbing on rusting benches and tumbling over one another. (Reuters)

But the closure hit Janakpur hard, with close to 130 railway employees losing their jobs, said Tula Bahadur Dangi, acting general manager of Nepal Railway Corporation, who has worked for the company for 18 years.

Files are pictured inside the old Janakpur railway station in Janakpur, Nepal, June 4, 2017. The station closed after the train stopped running in 2014. (Reuters)

Travellers have been forced to use buses instead, paying three times the price of a train ticket for a journey four times as long, which is complicated further during the monsoon rains that make the roads muddy.

Other trades dependent on the railway have also suffered.

"There is no business now, compared to when there was a train," lamented Rajendra Kushwaha, who ran a bookstall at Janakpur railway station for 45 years.

Indian labourers work on part of a bridge for the new railway in Janakpur, Nepal, June 4, 2017. (Reuters)

The revamp of the railway, set to be completed next March, presents clear signs of renewal and the improvements to come.

Construction is nearly 80 percent complete, with stations and bridges built, and land levelled to lay tracks, extending the track to Bardibas in the north, a distance of 69 kilometres (43 miles) away, with a total of 14 stations on the route.

A narrow gauge line where trains used to run is pictured in Janakpur, Nepal, June 4, 2017. (Reuters)

The expansion will create 350 jobs, Dangi said, complete with plans for a museum to showcase the old German-made abandoned carriages and engines.

The expanded route would also make it easier for tourists to visit the Ram Janaki temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which devout Hindus believe to be the birthplace of the goddess Sita.

Train driver Rafid Kabadi, 49, poses for a photograph with his grandson in front of an abandoned train that he used to drive in Janakpur, Nepal, June 4, 2017. (Reuters)

Completion can't come quickly enough for Rafid Kabadi, who drove trains on the old line for 25 years, the third generation of his family in the job.

"I am sad the train stopped, but happy the new one is coming," he said, standing before a rusted carriage with his grandson.