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Qinghai-Tibet Railway Brings Train Travels to "Roof of the World"

Xinhua Photos and Text By Song Rui, China Features

The first train traveling along the Qinghai-Tibet Railway left the Chinese capital Beijing on July 1, 2006. In 48 hours it reached Lhasa, capital of Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. The train's maiden journey inaugurated a new means of transportation connecting the world's highest plateau with the rest of China.

By building this railway on the "Roof of the World", China rewrote the world's history of railway construction. The feat also nullified the prophetic words given by American train traveler Paul Theroux, who said that the Kunlun Mountain Range was "a guarantee that the railway will never get to Lhasa."

The first train departing from Lhasa runs across the Hete Bridge, a section of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, on July 1, 2006. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway, extending 1,956 kilometers from Xining to Lhasa, starts its trial operation on the same day.  

Xinhua photo / by Suolangluobu

The Most Elevated Railway in the World

Railway builders repair the tracks at the foot of Mount Samdain Kangsang in Tibet. Qinghai-Tibet Railway is the most elevated railway in the world.

Xinhua photos/by Chogo

Construction of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway debuted in 1958. The first phase project, connecting the Qinghai provincial capital Xining with Golmud on the Qinghai-Tibet boundary, was completed in 1984. The second phase, linking Golmud to Lhasa, was built from June 2001 to October 2005.

Extending 1,956 kilometers from Xining to Lhasa, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway is the world's longest plateau railway. It is also the world's highest. Some 960 kilometers of its tracks were laid 4,000 meters above sea level. The highest section is 5,072 meters above sea level, even 200 meters higher than the Peruvian Railway that runs on the Andes and was once dubbed "the world's most elevated rail tracks."

Under harsh conditions of a low oxygen level and low temperatures, the railway builders solved several difficulties in design and construction to create an "engineering marvel". On the permafrost and slush along the route once believed to be impossible to support tracks and trains, the train speed can reach 100 kilometers per hour.

Female workers on the Qinghai-Tibet Railway

Female constructors pave the roadbed of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway at Anduo County (4,704 meters above sea level), Nagqu Prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Xinhua photo/ by Liu Quanlong

Lhasa Railway Station

Lhasa Railway Station, located in the southwest of Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, is a terminal of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. The railway station is about 20 kilometers from the world famous Potala Palace.

Xinhua photo/ by Karma

A Nun Passenger

A Buddhist nun named Tsultrim Lhamo (front, center) from Lhasa chats with train attendants. Lhamo has made friends with the attendants during the journey.

Xinhua Photo/ by Chogo

In order to combat the effects of altitude sickness on passengers traveling on the "Roof of the World", two oxygen supply systems have been installed on the train. One allows oxygen to spread in air in the train compartments through the air-conditioning system, while the other provides individual passengers with oxygen.

Equipped with these high-tech facilities, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway offers a safe, cheap and convenient trip for passengers. A total of 118,000 tourists traveled to Tibet by train in the first month of the railway's operation, 4,400 persons a day on average. The regional tourism administration has forecast that Tibet is expected to host more than 2.6 million tourists in 2006, a rise of 44 percent year on year.

The newly completed Qinghai-Tibet Railway is considered to be beneficial to tourists and the local people as well. Tibetans reportedly regarded the railway as a "road to heaven" that would bring them harmony, happiness and economic prosperity.

On June 23, 2006, a horseback transportation team comprising 99 horses and 68 riders from different Chinese ethnic groups including Han, Bai, Naxi, Yi and Tibetan, arrived at Lhasa Railway Station after a 6-month journey along the ancient Tea-Horse Trail. The team set off from Menghai County, Southwest China's Yunnan Province and covered a distance of more than 4,000 kilometers.

The Tea-Horse Trail was an important ancient trade route between Tibet and the inland areas of China.

The operation of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway will greatly change the way of cargo transportation in Tibet. The railway is expected to carry 75 percent of all freight going to Tibet, cutting transportation costs sharply.

Xinhua photo/ by Tubdain

Tibetan kids wave to a passing train in Doilungdeqen County of the Tibet Autonomous Region. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway is expected to greatly boost the local economy, especially tourism.

Xinhua Photo/ by Chogo

Linking Lhasa to other major Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Xining, Chengdu and Guangzhou, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway is expected to carry 75 percent of all freight going to Tibet, thus cutting transportation costs and boosting local economy.

The railway is also expected to help improve the lives of people in Qinghai and Tibet, add impetus to the local reform and opening-up drive, and promote the exchanges, cooperation and unity between different ethnic groups to achieve common prosperity and development.

The completion of the railway also paves the way for trade between China and South Asian nations such as India and Nepal, which were blocked by inconvenient transportation.

A vast land of 1.2 million square kilometers, the Tibet Autonomous Region makes up one eighth of China's land territory. In the distant past, Tibetans relied totally on human and animal power for transportation to and from other parts of China. Before the construction of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, buses, trucks and planes were used to transport passengers and goods.

It was a dream of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the forerunner of China's democratic revolution, to build a railway to Tibet. The century-old dream finally came true.

The Chinese government reportedly plans to build three more railway lines in Tibet as extensions of the newly-completed one. The new lines would be built in 10 years, to increase Tibet's total railway length to more than 2,000 kilometers.