The Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the world's highest rail line, is running safely
and in stable condition two months after winter descended on the Qinghai-Tibet
"Our inspections have shown that the track bed is in stable and accountable
condition. There have been only minor changes as the ground has frozen, which
the design allows for," said Xu Yongshuang, deputy manager of the Qinghai-Tibet
Railway, as quoted by Xinhua News Agency.
Signals and snow melting equipment along the line are all operational, he
Winter safety has been a key concern for the railway. Some 1,100-kilometres
of the track are at altitudes above 4,000 metres, and the line crosses 550
kilometres of permafrost. Temperature changes could potentially alter the shape
of the permafrost, threatening the stability of the rail bed and raising the
possibility of accidents.
Xu said problems like unstable permafrost could arise in the railway's first
winter. To offset the likelihood of an accident, the company has drafted
emergency plans in case problems occur on the rail line during the winter
For example, spare locomotives positioned at major railway stations along the
line can be dispatched to replace malfunctioning locomotives in one or two
hours. Local governments will also be involved in any rescue effort in the event
of an emergency.
Since October, railway departments have stepped up inspections and
maintenance along the line to ensure trains run safely across the world's
Wang Yingxian, a senior railway engineer at the Northwest Research Institute
under the China Railway Engineering Group, told China Daily that the 550
kilometres of track sitting on top of frozen ground were constantly being
monitored with the aid of electronic sensors.
"The tracks on frozen ground are under automatic inspection, which means we
receive around-the-clock data on weather and ground temperature," Wang said.
The Northwest Research Institute is based in Lanzhou, in Northwest China's
Gansu Province. The institute is the only organization in the railway system
that studies permafrost on the plateau.
Before this year, observation teams surveyed the tracks three times a day,
even when temperatures dipped to -30 C, he said.
At present, teams still check for subsidence and deformities in the rail bed.
"There are more than 70 monitoring teams along the line who work together to
inspect the rails sitting on permafrost every 15 days," he said.
The Northwest Research Institute has been gathering data about permafrost
conditions on the Fenghuo Mountain for the past 45 years, providing statistics
for the design and construction of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.
"The Qinghai-Tibet Railway has many measures in place to protect the frozen
ground," he said.
For example, engineers have used stone slabs to build embankments that cool
without breaking up. They have also thrust steel tubes into the ground along
some parts of the route to transmit heat from beneath the icy surface.
Bridges were built where the permafrost was unstable to minimize the
railway's influence on the environment.