Lonely Planet Writer

A state-of-the-art skyrail train could be set to soar over Kathmandu

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction: space-age trains zipping above the medieval streets of Kathmandu. However, if government officials get their way, Nepal could start building its first elevated railways lines as early as 2018.

Patan Daurbar Square, Nepal.
Patan Daurbar Square, Nepal. Image by thegoldenera21/500px /Lonely Planet

Nepali government representatives have entered discussions with Chinese engineers Cimex Inc to construct a city-wide mass transit network using state-of-the-art skyrail trains. Construction depends on the results of a feasibility study, but the trains could revolutionise life in a city notorious for its traffic congestion and choking air pollution from vehicle exhaust fumes and diesel generators.

Kathmandu Valley, Nepal.
Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. Image by Sharada Prasad CS / CC BY 2.0

Pollution levels in the Nepali capital have been measured at 20 times the World Health Organisation recommended safe level, and the city was ranked as the world’s third most polluted city in 2016, after Tetovo in Macedonia and Cairo in Egypt. Running on clean hydro-electric power, skytrains could dramatically improve air quality, but this would require major improvements to Nepal’s electrical grid, which is already struggling to meet surging demand.

The oldest market of Kathmandu

A post shared by Bharat Raj Adhikari (@brad_dai) on Feb 9, 2017 at 7:01pm PST

Another consideration is the effect of construction on Kathmandu’s UNESCO-listed medieval buildings. The Kathmandu valley is studded with medieval temples, monasteries and traditional brick and timber Newari homes and, while a skyrail system would be less damaging than trains at street level, it seems unlikely that a mass transit network could be built without some damage to Nepal’s architectural heritage.

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