KATHMANDU: The government’s long standing plan to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with South Korea on cooperation for the development of Nepal’s railway sector has reached nowhere. Both the nations had, three years ago, agreed in principle to reach an agreement.

As a part of the preparation, a draft of the MoU had also been approved by both the countries last year. The proposed agreement is basically focused on helping Nepal receive support in capacity development, skill enhancement of government officials and technology transfer in the railway sector.

The Korean assistance under the MoU carries huge importance with the government already working on a mega railway project — the East West or Mechi-Mahakali Electrified Railway. Similarly, Nepal has already agreed to be a part of the Trans-Asia Railway Network and there is a possibility of also establishing a railway connection with Chinese rail network which is expected to arrived to Kerung from Shigatse in the next five years.

“The plan to sign the MoU has been delayed as there has been a change in the Korean ambassador to Nepal and there has been no recent development,” said Tulasi Prasad Sitaula, secretary of the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport (MoPIT). He added that even though the MoU was yet to be signed between the two nations, Korea has been assisting in capacity building by imparting training to Nepali government officials.

Besides the East West railway project, the government is implementing projects to construct five cross-border railway links with India, and upgrade the Janakpur-Jayanagar railway to broad gauge from narrow gauge. Likewise, the government has a plan to develop a metro railway system in Kathmandu. As the country has no experience in railway development, delay in signing the MoU with Korea would affect the development of the entire railway sector, according to an official at the Department of Railways (DoRW).

Even though the draft is ready, officials at MoPIT said that they were yet to fix a date for the agreement to be signed. The proposed MoU has a provision of forming a committee that would meet each year and discuss about cooperation and development affairs. Both the countries had agreed in principle to cooperate on the matter, in August 2012, during the visit of a high-level government delegation of Nepal to Korea.

With its plan to expand railway network towards the Nepali side, China last year during bilateral talks had also asked Nepal to conduct a feasibility study so that the railway could be extended to Kathmandu and beyond. In January, the Development Committee of the Legislature-Parliament had also instructed the government to conduct a feasibility study to connect Kathmandu with the Lhasa-Shigatse railway. “If we connect a railway line with China, Nepal can be a transit hub for China, India and other South Asian countries for trade and tourism,” a DoRW official said.

Nepal is also a signatory to the Trans-Asia Railway Network. In December 2011, Nepal had agreed to be a part of the Trans-Asia network which will connect the country with railway networks in Asia and Europe, enabling uninterrupted movement of people and goods. However, despite the need to boost investment and put development on a fast track, the railway sector has been receiving less priority as it is a new sector and also requires huge resources.