Tibetan Roads

by AFP, Apr 2, 2006 | Destinations: China / Tibet

BEIJING, March 24, 2006 - With an historic train line to Tibet about to open, China is now planning to spend around 700 million dollars on a vast new road network for the Himalayan territory, state press reported Friday.

China will this year spend 5.7 billion yuan on road construction in Tibet as it starts building 21 highway projects and nine other major new roads, the Xinhua news agency said.

Part of the money will pay for upgrading the highway connecting the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal with Tibet, a mountainous region which has long had poor roads.

Highways have still not reached more than 1,000 villages in Tibet, while only half of the region's roads have been topped with asphalt, Xinhua quoted Zhao Shijun, chief of Tibet's communications bureau, as saying.

Over the past five years, the central Chinese government has invested about 1.81 billion dollars on building and upgrading roads and highways in Tibet.

The government is meanwhile building the first railway to link Tibet to the rest of China, with the 1,142-kilometer (708-mile) Qinghai-Tibet line due to open in July.

China hails the line as a major step in developing and modernizing Tibet and improving the living standards of its residents.

Critics, however, say the railway will bring an influx of immigrant Han Chinese that will further erode Tibet's unique Buddhist culture and will enable Beijing to tighten its control over the region.

Tibet was formally annexed in 1951 after Chinese troops invaded a year earlier. Tibetans continue to yearn for greater autonomy.

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From Xinhua News:

Tibet railway offers luxury travel to "Roof of the World"

LHASA, February 25, 2006 - Traveling overland through snow-capped mountains and high-land meadows to visit mysterious Tibetan Buddhist shrines on the world's highest plateau will soon no longer require the grit and resolve of an adventurous backpacker.

This July the first train of the new Qinghai-Tibet railway will whisk passengers from Beijing to Lhasa in 48 scenery-filled hours.

Tourists venturing to the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region from China's national capital can now get there by land in the lap of luxury. Special tourist trains will feature hotel-like services and special viewing cars for the journey to the 'roof of the world'.

Railway officials say they've tried to think of everything to allure the suit-case traveler who might previously eschewed the arduous travel required to get to the world's 'third pole'.

Huang Difu, who is in charge of the Qinghai-Tibet railway construction project says, "The trains will offer suites and hotel-like services. There will oxygen bars to help travelers adjust to the higher altitude,"

The completion of the new rail line, which snakes through rugged mountain regions and a flower-filled idyllic countryside, has been a source of great national pride.

The railway is hoping its trains will also make visiting the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau another of China 'golden' tourist routes.

It is expected to bring many new tourist dollars to Tibet and other provinces. Research by experts with the Academy of Social Sciences in Tibet and the Institute of Industrial Economy under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences say that the new overland route could bring fundamental changes to Tibet's tourism.

Tibet is working with the neighboring provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan to jointly explore how to bring more visitors to the region. Developers are expected to invest some 50 billion yuan (6.25 billion U.S.dollars) over the next decade to improve tourist facilities along the railroad.

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Facts about Qinghai-Tibet Railway

Qinghai-Tibet Railway is the world's highest railway. Some 960 kilometers of its tracks are located 4,000 meters above sea level and the highest point is 5,072 meters, at least 200 meters higher than the Peruvian railway in the Andes, which was formerly the world's most elevated track.

The railway is the world's longest plateau railroad, extending 1,956 kilometers from Qinghai's provincial capital Xining to Lhasa in Tibet. The newly completed Golmud-Lhasa section zigzags 1,142 kilometers across the Kunlun and Tanggula mountain ranges.

About 550 kilometers of the tracks run on frozen earth, the longest in any of the world's plateau railways.

Tanggula Railway Station, 5,068 meters above sea level, is the highest railway station in the world.

Fenghuoshan Tunnel, 4,905 meters above sea level, is the world's most elevated tunnel on frozen earth.

Kunlun Mountain Tunnel, running 1,686 meters, is the world's longest plateau tunnel built on frozen earth.

Upon its completion, the maximum train speed is designed to reach 100 kilometers per hour in the frozen earth areas and 120 kilometers per hour on non-frozen earth.

Construction of the Golmud-Lhasa section of the landmark railway commenced on June 29, 2001 and test runs are set for July 2006.

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