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Tibet rail construction completed
By Cao Desheng (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-10-15 06:55

A ceremony is planned on Saturday in Lhasa, capital of Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, to celebrate the completion of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway after four years of construction.

The railway, which connects Tibet with the rest of China, is the most elevated track in the world.

Once signalling and track testing is completed in the next 15 months, it will be possible to travel from Beijing to Lhasa in 48 hours.

The gigantic project, which involves an investment of 33 billion yuan (US$ 4.7 billion), is part of the nation's efforts to build up the underdeveloped western regions.

The railway, linking Lhasa with Golmud in Qinghai, extends 1,142 kilometres on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. It boasts the world's highest railway station, at Tanggula, located 5,068 metres above sea level.

With an average altitude of 4,500 metres, the line has 960 kilometres at 4,000 metres above sea level.

About 550 kilometres of the railway runs on frozen earth that is vulnerable to climate change, which posed a major challenge to construction.

The line is expected to attract tourists, traders and ethnic Chinese settlers who currently have to take either expensive flights to Lhasa or bone-shaking bus rides.

"The railway project will contribute enormously to the balance of the nation's economic growth as a whole as well as the region's development," Lin Yueqin, an economic researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said in a telephone interview with China Daily.

The railway also will greatly reduce transport costs for materials entering and exiting Tibet, which will help both domestic and foreign investment there.

Traffic has been one of the major obstacles to economic development of Tibet, which makes up about one-eighth of China's territory and was the only region without a single metre of operating railway.

More than 95 per cent of the cargo transported in and out of Tibet, and 85 per cent of the passengers, go by road from Qinghai or Sichuan, according to the Ministry of Communications.

Because of the high cost of transport, raw materials in Tibet cannot easily be transported out. The volume of cargo entering the region far exceeds that exiting the region.

"The railway will also help the region's tourism industry as Tibet is an attractive tourist destination to domestic and international travellers," Lin said.

The railway project drew concerns about possible environmental losses because the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau has a vulnerable ecosystem. Damaged vegetation cannot easily be restored.

Targeting such doubts, the railway has taken into account ecosystem protection, with at least 2 billion yuan (US$240 million) spent on conservation efforts, Xinhua News Agency reported.

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