Qinghai Tibet Railway
The Qinghai–Tibet Railway or Qingzang Railway (Standard Tibetan: མཚོ་བོད་ལྕགས་ལམ།, tr:mtsho bod lcags lam; simplified Chinese: 青藏铁路; traditional Chinese: 青藏鐵路; pinyin: Qīngzàng Tiělù), is a high-elevation railway that connects Xining, Qinghai Province to Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region of China.
The length of the railway is 1,956 km (1,215 mi). Construction of the 815 km (506 mi) section between Xining and Golmud was completed by 1984. The 1,142 km (710 mi) section between Golmud and Lhasa was inaugurated on 1 July 2006, by Chinese President Hu Jintao: the first two-passenger trains were "Qing 1" (Q1) from Xining to Golmud, and "Zang 2" (J2) from Golmud to Lhasa. This railway is the first that connects the Tibet Autonomous Region to any other provinces. Tibet, due to its elevation and terrain, is the last provincial level region in China to have a railway. Testing of the line and equipment started on 1 May 2006. Passenger trains run from Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Xining, and Lanzhou and can carry between 800 and 1,000 passengers during peak season.
The line includes the Tanggula Pass, which, at 5,072 m (16,640 feet) above sea level, is the world's highest point on a railway. Tanggula railway station at 5,068 m (16,627 feet) 33°00′18.50″N 91°38′57.70″E is the world's highest railway station. The 1,338 m (4,390 ft) Fenghuoshan tunnel is the highest rail tunnel in the world at 4,905 m (16,093 ft) above sea level. The 4,010 m (13,160 ft) New Guanjiao Tunnel is the longest tunnel and the culminating point 3,700 metres (12,100 ft) between Xining and Golmud and 3,345 m (10,974 ft). Yangbajing tunnel is the longest tunnel between Golmud and Lhasa. More than 960 km (600 mi), over 80% of the Golmud–Lhasa section, is at an elevation of more than 4,000 m (13,123 ft). There are 675 bridges, totalling 159.88 km (99.34 mi); about 550 km (340 mi) of track is laid on permafrost.
Qinghai–Tibet Railway Stations
Within the Golmud to Lhasa section of the line there are 45 stations, 38 of which are unstaffed and monitored by the control center in Xining. Thirteen more stations are planned
Qinghai–Tibet Railway Trains and Tickets
The trains are specially built for high elevation environments. The diesel locomotives were built by GE in Pennsylvania, and the passenger carriages are Chinese-made 25T carriages: on train Z21/Z22, between Beijing West and Lhasa, Bombardier Sifang Transportation (BSP) made carriages on the Golmud-Lhasa section in deep green/yellow or deep red/yellow. Signs in the carriages are in Tibetan, Chinese, and English. The operational speed is 120 km/h (75 mph) and 100 km/h (62 mph) over sections laid on permafrost.
The railway from Golmud to Lhasa was completed on 12 October 2005, and it opened to regular trial service on 1 July 2006.
At the beginning, only three trains ran: Beijing–Lhasa (every day), Chengdu/Chongqing–Lhasa (every other day), and Lanzhou/Xining–Lhasa. Shanghai/Guangzhou–Lhasa service were added in October 2006. In July 2010 the Shanghai–Lhasa service became daily, and a daily service between Xining and Lhasa was added, but the service was then suspended for the winter season.
Since October 2006, five pairs of passenger trains run between Golmud and Lhasa, and one more pair between Xining and Golmud. The line has a capacity of eight pairs of passenger trains.
Qinghai–Tibet Railway Oxygen Supply and Medical Issues
The passenger carriages used on Lhasa trains are specially built and have an oxygen supply for each passenger. Every passenger train has a doctor.
A Passenger Health Registration Card is required to take the train between Golmud and Lhasa. The card can be obtained when purchasing the ticket. Passengers must read the health notice for high-elevation travel and sign the agreement on the card to take the train. On 28 August 2006, a 75-year-old Hong Kong man was reported to be the first passenger to die on the train, after he had suffered heart problems in Lhasa but insisted on travelling to Xining.
Qinghai–Tibet Railway Construction
The capital of the Qinghai Province, Xining, became connected with the rest of the country by rail in 1959, when the Lanqing Railway from Lanzhou was completed.
The 815 km section of the future Qingzang Railway from Xining to Golmud, Qinghai opened to traffic in 1984. But the remaining 1,142 km (710 mi) section from Golmud to Lhasa could not be constructed until technical difficulties of building railroad tracks on permafrost were solved. This section was formally started on 29 June 2001, finished on 12 October 2005, and signalling work and track testing took another eight months. It was completed in five years at a cost of $3.68 billion.
Track-laying in Tibet was launched from both directions, towards Tanggula Mountain and Lhasa, from Amdo Railway Station on 22 June 2004. On 24 August 2005, track was laid at the railway's highest point, the Tanggula Pass, 5,072 m (16,640 feet) above sea level.
There are 44 stations, among them Tanggula Mountain railway station, at 5,068 m (16,627 ft) the world's highest. Peru's Ticlio railway station at 4,829 m (15,843 ft) is the highest in the Americas (Cóndor station; at 4,786 m or 15,702 ft, on the Rio Mulatos-Potosí line, Bolivia, and La Galera station at 4,777 m or 15,673 ft, in Peru, being the next highest). The Qingzang Railway project involved more than 20,000 workers and over 6,000 pieces of industrial equipment, and is considered[who?] one of China's major accomplishments of the 21st century.
Bombardier Transportation built 361 high-altitude passenger carriages with special enriched-oxygen and UV-protection systems, delivered between December 2005 and May 2006. Fifty-three are luxury sleeper carriages for tourist services.
The construction of the railway was part of the China Western Development strategy, an attempt to develop the western provinces of China, which are much less developed than eastern China. The railway will be extended to Zhangmu via Shigatse (日喀则) to the west, and Dali via Nyingchi (林芝) to the east. A further extension is planned to link Shigatse with Yadong near the China-India border  (Map ). The railway is considered one of the greatest feats in modern Chinese history by the government, and as a result is often mentioned on regular TV programs. Chinese-Tibetan folk singer Han Hong has a song called Tianlu (Road to Heaven; 天路) praising the Qingzang Railway.
Qinghai–Tibet Railway Completed Extensions
On 17 August 2008, a railway spokesman confirmed plans to add six more rail lines connecting to the Qinghai-Tibet railway, including from Lhasa to Nyingchi and from Lhasa to Shigatse, both in the Tibet Autonomous Region. Three lines will originate from Golmud in Qinghai province and run to Chengdu in Sichuan province, Dunhuang in Gansu province, and Korla of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The sixth will link Xining, the capital of Qinghai, with Zhangye in Gansu. The six lines are expected to be in operation before 2020. Construction work of the Lhasa–Shigatse extension began on 26 September 2010, it was opened in August 2014.
Qinghai–Tibet Railway Future Extensions
Qinghai–Tibet Railway Golmud to Dunhuang Link
In October 2012, the beginning of the construction of a 506-km Golmud-Dunhuang railway line was announced. This single-track electrified rail line will run from Dunhuang (in Gansu Province) to the Yinmaxia station on the Qinghai–Tibet Railway north of Golmud. The project is expected to take five years. Since Dunhuang, located in the westernmost part of Gansu, is connected to the Lanxin Railway, the Golmud-Dunhuang link will allow a fairly direct connection between Tibet and Xinjiang.
Qinghai–Tibet Railway Proposed Connection to Nepal
In a meeting between Chinese and Nepalese officials on 25 April 2008, the Chinese delegation announced the intention to extend the Qingzang railway to Zhangmu (Nepali: Khasa) on the Nepalese border. Nepal had requested that the railway be extended to enable trade and tourism between the two nations. On the occasion of the Nepali premier's visit to China it was reported that construction will be completed by 2020. The section Lhasa-Shigatse opened in August 2014.
Qinghai–Tibet Railway Engineering Challenges
There are many technical difficulties for such a railway. About half of the second section was built on barely permanent permafrost. In the summer, the uppermost layer thaws, and the ground becomes muddy. The heat from the trains passing above is able to melt the permafrost even with a small change in temperature. The main engineering challenge, aside from oxygen shortages, is the weakness of the permafrost. For areas of permafrost that are not very fragile, an embankment of large rocks is sufficient. Meanwhile, in the most fragile areas, the rail bed must be elevated like a bridge. The engineers dealt with this problem in the areas of weakest permafrost by building elevated tracks with pile-driven foundations sunk deep into the ground. Similar to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, portions of the track are also passively cooled with ammonia-based heat exchangers.
Due to Climate change, temperatures in the Tibetan Plateau may be considered to increase by an estimated two to three degrees Celsius. This change is sufficient to melt the permafrost and thereby affect the integrity of the entire system. The effects of climate change have yet to be seen.
The air in Tibet is much thinner, with oxygen partial pressure being 35% to 40% below that at sea level. Special passenger carriages are used, and several oxygen factories were built along the railway. Each seat in the train is equipped with an oxygen supply outlet for any possible emergency. The Chinese government claimed that no construction workers died during the construction due to altitude sickness related diseases. The railway passes the Kunlun Mountains, an earthquake zone. The 7.8 Mw Kunlun earthquake struck in 2001 (but caused no fatalities). Dozens of earthquake monitors have been installed along the railway.
Qinghai–Tibet Railway Economic and Environmental Impact
With limited industrial capacity in Tibet, the Tibetan economy heavily relies on industrial products from more developed parts of China. Transport of goods in and out of Tibet was mostly through the Qingzang Highway connecting Tibet to the adjacent Qinghai province, which was built in the early 1950s. The length and terrain have limited the capacity of the highway, with less than 1 million tons of goods transported each year. With the construction of the Qingzang railway, the cost of transportation of both passengers and goods should be greatly reduced, allowing for an increase in volume—the cost per tonne-kilometer will be reduced from 0.38 RMB to 0.12 RMB. It is projected that by 2010, 2.8 million tons will be carried to and from Tibet, with over 75% carried by the railway. This is expected to help support the Tibetan economy.
The environmental impact of the new railway is an ongoing concern. The increase in passenger traffic will result in greater tourism and economic activity on the Tibetan Plateau.
Wood is the main fuel source for rural inhabitants in certain regions of Tibet. The damage to the ecosystem caused by cutting trees for fuel takes years to recover due to slow growth caused by Tibet's harsh environmental conditions. The railway would make coal, which is not produced in Tibet, an affordable replacement. However, the increase in fuel combustion due to increased human activity in an already-thin atmosphere may affect the long term health of the local population.
Before the railway, the purchasing power of 100 RMB in Lhasa was only commensurate with 54 RMB in coastal regions of China, mainly due to high transport costs. The railway could elevate the living standards along the railway.
Trash and excrement are collected into two sealed containers in each car (not thrown on the tracks), they are taken out at the big stations.
The effects of this railway on wild animals such as Tibetan antelope and plants are currently unknown. Thirty-three wildlife crossing railway bridges were constructed specifically to allow continued animal migration. Here is the Google Maps satellite image of one such bridge.
There are concerns from the China Meteorological Administration that melting, due to global warming, of the permafrost in Tibet on which part of the railway is placed could threaten the railway within this century.
Qinghai–Tibet Railway Criticism
China has been criticized by Tibetan Independence groups for having built the railway to strengthen its political control over Tibet.
In particular, groups such as the International Campaign for Tibet have alleged that the railway will marginalize Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region by encouraging further Han migration from the rest of China.
Qinghai–Tibet Railway Rolling Stock
361 Bombardier Sifang Power (Qingdao) Transportation Ltd./Power Corporation of Canada/China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Industry (Group) Corporation High-Grade Coach – 308 standard cars and 53 special tourist cars
GE Transportation NJ2 locomotive (78 GE designation C38AChe locomotives were built)
Qishuyan Locomotive Factory DF8CJ 9000 series locomotive – similar to the Bombardier Transportation-GE Transportation Blue Tiger diesel electric locomotive
Qinghai–Tibet RailwayScenery Along the Railway
Since the opening of Qingzang Railway, scenery as viewed from the railway has become internationally famous:
Xining to Golmud:
Golmud to Lhasa:
Kunlun Pass, the east part of Kunlun Mountains (Hoh Xil Mountains to Bayan Har Mountains), Yuzhu Peak and its Glacier
Tuotuo River Bridge
Tanggula Railway Station, Tanggula Mountains
Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains
Lhasa River Bridge
Qinghai–Tibet Railway Route
English name Chinese name Distance from Xining Coordinates Altitude
in km (mi) (西宁)
Xining West 西宁西 12 km (7.5 mi) 36.65778°N 101.68736°E 2282 m
Shuangzhai 双寨 24 km (15 mi)
Zhamalong 扎麻隆 35 km (22 mi)
Shiyazhuang 石崖庄 48 km (30 mi)
Tongkor 湟源 58 km (36 mi) 36.68384°N 101.23963°E 2650 m
Shenzhong 申中 67 km (42 mi)
Bayan 巴燕 77 km (48 mi)
Yuejiacun 岳家村 85 km (53 mi)
railway station 海晏 97 km (60 mi) 36.86703°N 100.99359°E 3074 m
Huangcaozhuang 黄草庄 108 km (67 mi)
Ketu 克土 122 km (76 mi)
Qinghai Lake 青海湖 133 km (83 mi)
Tulai 托勒 147 km (91 mi)
Ganzihe 甘孜河 162 km (101 mi)
Hairag 哈尔盖 177 km (110 mi) 37.18308°N 100.41576°E 3248 m
Kangtsa 刚察 208 km (129 mi) 37.24375°N 100.09843°E 3238 m
Huangyu 黄玉 223 km (139 mi)
Jiermeng 吉尔孟 251 km (156 mi)
Jianghe 江河 266 km (165 mi)
Têmpung 天棚 290 km (180 mi)
Themchen 天峻 311 km (193 mi)
Nanshan 南山 330 km (210 mi)
Erlang 二郎 342 km (213 mi)
Chahannuo 察汗诺 3 64 km (226 mi)
Gaba 尕巴 397 km (247 mi)
Ulan 乌兰 407 km (253 mi) 36.95397°N 98.46755°E 3017 m
Serh 赛什克 411 km (255 mi)
Keke 柯柯 426 km (265 mi) 36.98391°N 98.25511°E 2966 m
Chaikai 柴凯 448 km (278 mi)
Taoli 陶力 474 km (295 mi)
Gahai 尕海 498 km (309 mi)
Delingha 德令哈 521 km (324 mi) 37.314287°N 97.38301°E 2945 m
Denong 德农 523 km (325 mi)
Gobi 戈碧 548 km (341 mi)
Lianhu 连湖 563 km (350 mi)
Quanshuiliang 泉水梁 583 km (362 mi)
Pingshuang 平爽 607 km (377 mi)
Hangya 航垭 639 km (397 mi)
Yinmaxia 饮马峡 675 km (419 mi) 37.32396°N 95.87227°E 3151 m
Xitieshan 锡铁山 699 km (434 mi) 37.25768°N 95.63723°E 2996 m
Songrugou 松如沟 711 km (442 mi)
Dabuxun 达布逊 750 km (470 mi) 36°55′9″N 95°21′49″E
Qarhan 察尔汗 764 km (475 mi) 36.81032°N 95.30416°E 2687 m
A private branch to Zannge Potash Co
Yushuihe 鱼水河 797 km (495 mi)
Golmud East 格尔木东 808 km (502 mi) 36°25′08″N 94°55′25″E
Golmud 格尔木 830 km (520 mi) 36°22′58″N 94°54′21″E 2829 m
Nanshankou 南山口 857 km (533 mi) 36°11′34″N 94°46′46″E
Donglung 甘隆 881 km (547 mi) 35°59′33″N 94°49′05″E
Naij Tal 纳赤台 914 km (568 mi) 35°52.4′N 94°32.2′E
Xiaonanchuan 小南川 937 km (582 mi) 35°51′37″N 94°20′47″E
Yuzhu Peak 玉珠峰 955 km (593 mi) 35°43′47″N 94°18′27″E
Wonkhu 望昆 973 km (605 mi) 35°42′53″N 94°06′47″E
Budongquan 不冻泉 1,010 km (630 mi) 35°31.2′N 93°54.3′E
Chumar Heyan 楚玛尔河 1,056 km (656 mi) 35°22.6′N 93°29.2′E
Wudaoliang 五道梁 1,100 km (680 mi) 35°11′41″N 93°04′43″E
Luma Chu 秀水河 1,138 km (707 mi)
Jiangkedong 江克栋 1,174 km (729 mi)
Riachiqu 日阿尺曲 1,196 km (743 mi)
Wuli 乌丽 1,220 km (760 mi)
Togtan Heyan 沱沱河 1,239 km (770 mi)
Kaixinling 开心岭 1,260 km (780 mi)
Dri Chu 通天河 1,281 km (796 mi)
Tanggang 塘岗 1,309 km (813 mi)
Yanshiping 雁石坪 1,334 km (829 mi)
Bumade 布玛德 1,356 km (843 mi)
Buqiangge 布强格 1,380 km (860 mi)
Thang-la north 唐古拉北 1,404 km (872 mi)
Thang-la 唐古拉 1,421 km (883 mi) 32°53′5″N 91°55′6″E
Thang-la south 唐古拉南 1,441 km (895 mi)
Za'gya Zangbo 扎加藏布 1,460 km (910 mi)
U-nyok Chu 托居 1,499 km (931 mi)
Amdo 安多 1,524 km (947 mi) 32°15′8″N 91°39′57″E
Cuonahu 措那湖 1,553 km (965 mi) 32.0343465°N 91.5343443°E 4594 m
Liantonghe 联通河 1,574 km (978 mi)
Dongqen 底吾玛 1,593 km (990 mi)
Gacha 岗秀 1,632 km (1,014 mi)
Nagqu 那曲 1,650 km (1,030 mi) 31°26′45″N 91°59′21″E 4513 m
Yuru 妥如 1,691 km (1,051 mi)
Sangshung 桑雄 1,713 km (1,064 mi)
Gulog 古露 1,735 km (1,078 mi)
U-ma Thang 乌玛塘 1,775 km (1,103 mi)
Damshung 当雄 1,808 km (1,123 mi) 30°27.6′N 91°04.8′E
Dhachu-go 达琼果 1,845 km (1,146 mi)
Yangbaling 羊八林 1,864 km (1,158 mi)
Yangpachen 羊八井 1,881 km (1,169 mi)
Angga 昂嘎 1,901 km (1,181 mi)
Maxiang 马乡 1,913 km (1,189 mi)
Gurong 古荣 1,930 km (1,200 mi)
Lhasa West 拉萨西 1,953 km (1,214 mi) 29°38′38″N 90°58′00″E
Lhasa 拉萨 1,972 km (1,225 mi) 29°37′30″N 91°04′07″E