China's Qinghai-Tibet railway

by AFP, Jun 26, 2006 | Destinations: China / Tibet


BEIJING, June 26, 2006 - China's Qinghai-Tibet railway, already extolled as a triumph for Beijing and a symbol of colonization by exiled Tibetans, will become the world's highest railway when it opens on Saturday.

While exiled Tibetans fear the railway will result in a flood of Han Chinese into the region, the central government sees it as a project to tap natural resources on the vast Tibetan plateau and bring the region out of poverty.

Over the past weeks, thousands of workers have put the finishing touches on the railway line which will be inaugurated on the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.

Chinese President Hu Jintao, who was Tibet's top leader during a crackdown on Tibet's fervent independence movement from 1988 to 1992, is reportedly preparing to commemorate the opening in Golmud, in Qinghai province, 1,972 kilometers (1,220 miles) from the line's terminus in Lhasa.

Work on the line actually began in 1950 but was suspended after the section from the Qinghai provincial capital of Xining to Golmud was finished. Work resumed in 2001 with the government pouring some 20 billion yuan (2.5 billion dollars) into the project.

As of Saturday, travellers departing Beijing will be able to reach Lhasa about 4,561 kilometers away in two days.

"The project is symbolic of China's development of the western regions," said foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu.

"The railway will fundamentally change the backward situation of the region's infrastructure, it will raise the living standards of all ethnic minorities and will strengthen the rapid development of the tourist industry."

With a third Tibetan airport slated to open also in July, regional authorities estimate that by 2010 the number of tourist arrivals to the "Roof of the World" will double from this year's 2.5 million.

By 2010, tourist revenues in the region will rise to 5.8 billion yuan a year, they said.

For exiled Tibetans, plans are already in the works to protest the railway line on Saturday at Chinese embassies and consulates worldwide. Protesters have been urged to wear black arm bands of mourning during the protests.

"The railway will have devastating consequences for our people as Beijing wants to submerge our population, dilute our culture and exploit our lands," said Ngawang Woeber, a former Tibetan political prisoner who is organizing the protests from Dharamsala, India.

Dharamsala is where the Dalai Lama's exiled government has been based after the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader sought refuge in the northern Indian hill town following an aborted 1959 uprising in Lhasa.

Although Tibetans fear that the influx of more Chinese into Tibet will erode the region's unique Buddhist traditions, Chinese tourist agents are touting the railway as the world's highest with much of the line 4,000 meters (13,200 feet) above sea level and its highest point reaching 5,072 meters.

"A trip to Tibet is considered by many Chinese as a trip to heaven and is a dream of many," Zhao Hongyu, an agent at the China Youth Travel Service, said.

"The railway allows us to diversify our products because it is less expensive than an airplane by between 1,000 to 3,000 yuan and it is easier for travellers to acclimatize to the altitude."

At present, one-way air tickets to Lhasa cost more than 2,000 yuan.

With China's economy booming, the railway is also key to plans to exploit Tibet's rich natural resources, especially copper.

"I'm sure that the railway will push ahead the development of this region. For years a lack of transport has been a huge problem blocking progress," said Zhang Xiaode, an economist specializing in China's western regions.

However Zhang, like many environmentalists, fears that rampant exploitation could harm the fragile ecosystem in the Himalayan region that has largely remained untouched by man.

To this end, the government has pledged to spend 1.54 billion yuan on protecting Tibet's environment and its rare species such as the Tibetan antelope.

* * *

China adds two more rail links to Tibet


BEIJING, October 2, 2006 - China has added two more rail links to the Himalayan region of Tibet, with trains now also running from the economic hubs of Shanghai and Guangzhou, state press reported Monday.

The first direct train from Shanghai to Lhasa, Tibet's capital, departed on Sunday, with the 4,373-kilometer (2,711-mile) journey scheduled to take just over 51 hours, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

The service from Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong in the far south of the country, to Lhasa began on Monday morning, Xinhua said. At 4,980 kilometers and taking just over 57 hours, the Guangzhou-Lhasa train ride is one of the longest in the country, according to Xinhua.

President Hu Jintao opened the railway to Lhasa on July 1, 2006, calling it a magnificent engineering feat and a miracle for the world.

The new connection was a 1,142-kilometers track from the desert outpost of Golmud in China's far northwestern Qinghai province to Lhasa.

Climbing a peak of 5,072 meters (16,737 feet) above sea level, it is the highest railway in the world.

Services linking Beijing to Qinghai and on to Lhasa also began on July 1.

Since then, services have been added from the two southwestern cities of Chongqing and Chengdu.

The government sees the rail line as an important tool in modernizing and developing Tibet, which has been part of China since Chinese troops "liberated" the region in 1950.

However critics argue the line will allow the national majority Han Chinese to flood in to Tibet, leading to the devastation of the local Tibetan culture, as well as accelerate environmental degradation of the pristine region.

China's railways ministry was quoted in the state press on September 19, 2006 as saying 450,000 passengers had traveled to Tibet by rail since the train services began.

* * *

China plans 'most luxurious train in the world' to Tibet

BEIJING, March 9, 2008 - China will launch "the most luxurious train in the world" to ply the route from Beijing to Tibet's capital Lhasa, state media reported Sunday.

However, a ride on the train, which will begin operations on September 1, 2008, will be about 20 times more expensive than the ordinary fare of about 2,000 yuan (US$280), Xinhua news agency said.

"The interior of the train will be decorated according to the standards of a five-star hotel, making it the most luxurious train in the world," said Zhu Mingrui, general manager of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway Corporation.

"Such a train can only seat 96 passengers. The fare would be about 20 times the normal price and also much more than an airline ticket," he said.

There will be three trains, which will head from Beijing to Lhasa every eight days. The luxury journey will take five days.
Each train will have 12 passenger cars, two dining cars and a sightseeing car. Each passenger car will have four ten-square-metre (108-square-foot) suites featuring a double bed, a living room and bathing facilities.

The train line to the Himalayan "roof of the world" went into operation in July 2006.

Chinese authorities see the 1,142-kilometre (710-mile) railway as an important tool in modernising and developing Tibet, which has been part of China since its troops occupied the region in 1950.

However, critics say that the line is allowing the Han Chinese, the national majority, to flood into Tibet, leading to the devastation of the local culture as well accelerating environmental degradation of the region.

* * * * *