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Nepal’s antique trains rotting away

Govind Mahato

Govind Mahato

Nepal’s antique trains rotting away

Coal locomotives of narrow gauge trains getting rusty/Annapurna

Railway service in Nepal started in 1927, with the first train under the Nepal Government Railway (NGR) running on a 762 mm narrow gauge. The British Indian government had built a 39 km railway line from Raxaul in India to Amalekhgunj; the 28-km Jayanagar-Janakpur railway was built in the second phase.

In 1937, the British Indian government started the operation of a train from Jayanagar in India to Vijalpura in Mahottari to transport back herbs, timber, and minerals from Nepal. The train was also narrow gauge. The locomotive of the same coal train is rusting away.

The federal government brought two sets of trains to Janakpur from India on September 20, and their arrival was widely hailed. But the coal engines of the old narrow-gauge trains, which have a long history of operation in Nepal, are turning into scarp.

The locomotives named Brahma, Vishnu, Ram Sita, Gorakhnath, Pashupatinath, Mahavir and Sita are rusting away at the open station of Janakpurdham-Jayanagar railway track section of Janakandani rural municipality, Khajuri. After the Janakpur-Jayanagar railway service was shut seven years ago, its employees were deployed to protect railway property.

But according to Dhanik Lal Das, a local, the 16 former employees, instead of looking after the old railways, have been stealthily selling their spare parts.

Old locomotives, bogies and other equipment have been getting worse for wear. Some parts of the narrow gauge trains, considered rare in the world, have been stolen. Janakandani village chairman Abdul Warikh Sheikh says that the old narrow-gauge engines should be housed in a cultural museum.

“We have written to the federal government requesting the building of a museum,” Sheikh says. “We are yet to get a reply. As we are not allowed to interfere with the federal government's physical infrastructure without permission, we have been unable to build a museum and preserve antique engines on our own.”

“The government of Nepal has brought new trains, which is a welcome move,” says cultural expert Ravrosh Kapadi 'Bhamrar'. “But devaluation of old valuables is an attack on our culture.” We are fascinated with innovations abroad but unable to look after our own antiques, Kapadi adds, “which could otherwise be a great attraction for tourists from around the world.”

Guru Bhattarai, general manager of Nepal Railway Company, recently informed on his Facebook page that budget had already been allocated to build and preserve narrow-gauge railway museum.