A report in Railway Standard Design last week and quoted in the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post confirmed that the proposed alignment would include 30km of tunnels beneath Langtang National Park.
Liang Dong, a lead engineer with the China Railway First Survey and Design Institute Group will be presenting his report to the Chinese and Nepal governments.
He said the Himalayan Tunnel route from Kerung (Gyirong) to Kathmandu would be more challenging and costly, but other routes were rejected either because the gradients were too steep, they went through protected areas, or were geologically unstable and exposed to glacial lake outburst floods due to climate change.
The possibility of trans-Himalayan connectivity was first mooted as far back as 1973 by Mao Zedong in a meeting with King Birendra in Beijing. Since then, China built the Qinghai-Tibet Railway connecting Lhasa to Xining, and is now working on the Sichuan-Tibet Railway to Chengdu and Kunming.
The Qinghai-Tibet Railway was extended from Lhasa to Xigatse in 2014, and in three years those tracks will reach Kerung on the Nepal border, only 70km in a straight line north of Kathmandu.
Even though it is just a secondary route in China’s ambitious BRI, Nepal could gain valuable access to Chinese seaports and trade centres, especially as relations with long-time trade partner India blow hot and cold. Construction on the HSR in Tibet has gone ahead despite the pandemic.