CHINA / National

First train rumbles on highest railway
By Xin Dingding (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-07-01 05:32

Slideshows on Tibet's first railway
Slideshows on Tibet

GOLMUD, Qinghai Province: The Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the world's highest, begins operation on Saturday.

Chinese workers install the sign on the roof of Lhasa Railway Station in Lhasa, Tibet, June 20, 2006. The Chinese characters say "Lhasa." It was the largest railway station alongside Qinghai-Tibet Railway, which will begin trial operations on July 1.[Xinhua]
Chinese workers install the sign on the roof of Lhasa Railway Station in Lhasa, Tibet, June 20, 2006. The Chinese characters say "Lhasa." It was the largest railway station alongside Qinghai-Tibet Railway, which will begin trial operations on July 1.[Xinhua]

The first train will leave Golmud, the second largest city of Qinghai in Northwest China, for Lhasa, in the Tibet Autonomous Region, in the morning.

The drivers for the first train have been selected from a group of 480. They are Ma Yuancai and Zhu Hongshou, the Xinhua News Agency reported on Friday.

Liu Guocheng, another driver, will be the substitute.

The train leaves Golmud at about 2,800 metres above sea level, winds through the towering Tanggula Mountain Pass at 5,072 metres, and finally arrives in Lhasa at 3,650 metres.

A ceremony will be held at the Golmud Railway Station at about 9:30 am to see off the train, according to sources with the Ministry of Railways.

At least 1,000 journalists from home and abroad have come to Qinghai and Tibet to cover the event along the rail line.

People can witness the ceremony and the whole day's trip live on television, radio and news websites.

The first train from Golmud to Lhasa will carry governmental officials and reporters, not ordinary passengers.

But in the evening, passenger trains will run from three cities Beijing, Chengdu of Sichuan Province and Xining of Qinghai Province to Lhasa. The first train will leave Lhasa on Sunday morning.

The trains running on the "roof of the world" will be driven by engines made by US-based General Electric (GE).

GE locomotives are chosen because of their great traction and brake powers, low power cost and high reliability, said Zhu Zhensheng, vice-director of the Ministry of Railways office in charge of the new line.

The GE locomotives have been used in Peruvian railways in the Andes at the altitude of 4,700 metres, the highest railways in the world before the Qinghai-Tibet Railway was completed.

Some 1,000 kilometres of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway's tracks are located at 4,000 metres above sea level.

The Tibet Autonomous Region's tourism administration estimated that an additional 3,000 to 4,000 tourists would arrive in Tibet daily once the Qinghai-Tibet Railway begins operation.

Local tourist destinations have taken measures to ensure precious cultural relics don't suffer from the increased numbers.

The Potala Palace in Lhasa will restrict the number of daily visitors to 1,800.

Liao Lisheng, an official with the Tibetan tourism administration, said that 960 out of the 1,800 tickets will be sold to travel agencies. Individual visitors can try their luck. But since reservations cannot be made, it is better to buy the tickets one day in advance.

The Potala Palace features the essence of ancient Tibetan architecture and art, and houses countless artifacts. Both the Potala Palace and Norbu Linkag, the summer palace of Dalai Lamas, are on the World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Namco Lake, another famous tourist spot in Tibet, will give every tourist an eco-friendly bag to collect and remove rubbish. There will be no swimming, fishing or boats allowed on the lake.

Backgrounder: Key facts about Qinghai-Tibet Railway

China will open the world's most elevated railroad, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, on Saturday. Below are some facts about the Qinghai-Tibet Railway:

-- Qinghai-Tibet Railway is the first railroad linking Tibet with the rest of China.

-- China has solved three major difficulties, namely frozen tundra, high altitude and plateau environmental protection, to rewrite the world's history of railway construction with the completion of Qinghai-Tibet Railway.

-- None of the hundreds of thousands of railway builders died of altitude sickness in the past five years.

-- 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 rail.

-- 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.

-- About 29.46 billion yuan (3.68 billion U.S. dollars) had been spent on the Golmud-Lhasa section which runs 1,142 kilometers.

-- The basic coach ticket, called a hard seat, sells for 389 yuan (48.6 U.S. dollars) from Beijing to Lhasa, while the price for hard sleeper or bunk costs 813 yuan (101.6 dollars), and the price for a shared compartment or soft sleeper is 1,262 yuan (157. 75 dollars).

(China Daily 07/01/2006 page1)


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