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Map of the railway
A train pulled by an NJ2 locomotive travels on the Qingzang railway in 2008.

The Qingzang railway, Qinghai–Xizang railway, or Qinghai–Tibet railway (simplified Chinese: 青藏铁路traditional Chinese: 青藏鐵路pinyin: Qīngzàng Tiělù; Tibetan: mtsho bod lcags lam མཚོ་བོད་ལྕགས་ལམ།), is a high-altitude railway that connects Xining, Qinghai Province, to Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, in People's Republic of China.

The total length of Qingzang railway is 1956 km (1215 mi). Construction of the 815 km (506 mi) section between Xining and Golmud was completed by 1984. The 1142 km (709 mi) section between Golmud and Lhasa was inaugurated on 1 July 2006 by president Hu Jintao: the first two passenger trains were "Qing 1" (Q1) from Golmud to Lhasa, and "Zang 2" (J2) from Lhasa.[1] This railway is the first to connect China proper with the Tibet Autonomous Region, which, due to its altitude and terrain, is the last province-level entity in mainland China to have a conventional railway. Testing of the line and equipment started on 1 May 2006.[2] Passenger trains run from Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Xining and Lanzhou.[3]

The line includes the Tanggula Pass, which, at 5,072 m (16,640 feet) above sea level, is the world's highest rail track. The 1,338 m Fenghuoshan tunnel is the highest rail tunnel in the world at 4,905 m above sea level. The 4,010-m Guanjiao tunnel is the longest tunnel from Xining to Golmod and the 3,345-m Yangbajing tunnel is the longest tunnel from Golmod to Lhasa. More than 960 km, or over 80% of the Golmud-Lhasa section, is at an altitude of more than 4,000 m. There are 675 bridges, totalling 159.88 km, and about 550 km of the railway is laid on permafrost.



 Ordinary station
 Station with vista point
Note: stations in gray are unstaffed
Note: this image is not to scale

In the Golmud to Lhasa part of the line, 45 stations are open, 38 of which are unstaffed, monitored by the control center in Xining. Thirteen more stations are planned. [4]

Trains and tickets

The trains are specially built for high altitude environment. The diesel locomotives used on Golmud-Lhasa section were made by GE in Pennsylvania, and the passenger carriages are Chinese-made 25T carriages: on train T27/T28, between Beijing West and Lhasa, BSP carriages are from Bombardier. Carriages used on the Golmud-Lhasa section are either deep green/yellow or deep red/yellow. Signs in the carriages are in Tibetan, Simplified Chinese and English. The operational speed is 120 km/h, 100 km/h over sections laid on permafrost.

The 1,142-km Qinghai–Tibet railway from Golmud to Lhasa was completed on 12 October 2005. It opened to regular trial service on 1 July 2006.[5]

Apart from hard seat tickets, there is an extra charge for forward-facing seats and berths. Compared with standard pricing for the same class, the soft seat, hard sleeper and soft sleeper tickets have an added charge of 0.09, 0.10 or 0.16 yuan per kilometre per person respectively.

A Passenger Health Registration Card is required to take the train between Golmud to Lhasa. The card can be obtained when purchasing the ticket. Passengers must read the health notice for high-altitude 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. [3]

Oxygen supply

From 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, and the carriages are specially built and have an oxygen supply for each passenger.


Sun Yat-sen's dream of railways in Tibet (1917–1920)
Liuwu tunnel (柳梧隧道), near Lhasa station.
Tanggula railway station, located at 5,068 m, is the highest station in the world

Dreams of a railway to Tibet were included in Dr. Sun Yat-sen's aim in 1917–1920 to build 100,000 km. of track across the entire country. [4] Since the formation of the Tibetan Autonomous Region in early 1950s, the Chinese government pursued Dr. Sun's dream of a railway to Tibet. Engineers were sent to investigate the possibility, but a shortage of technology and money prevented the project from starting.

The 815 km section from Xining, Qinghai to Golmud, Qinghai opened to traffic in 1984. Construction of the remaining 1,142 km section from Golmud to Lhasa could not be started until the recent economic growth of China. This section was formally started on 29 June 2001. This section was 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 Anduo 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.[6]

There are forty-four railway stations, among them Tanggula Mountain railway station, at 5,068 m the world's highest (Cóndor station, at 4,786 m, on the Rio Mulatos-Potosí line, Bolivia, and La Galera station at 4,777 m, 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 one of China's major accomplishments of the 21st century.

Bombardier Transportation provided 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.[7]

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 [8] (Map [9]). 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 and glorifying the Qingzang Railway.

The bridge on permafrost horizon

Future extensions

In a meeting between Chinese and Nepalese officials on 25 April 2008, the Chinese delegation announced that country's intention to extend the Qingzang railway from Lhasa 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. Construction of the extension is planned to be completed by 2013.[10] On 17 August 2008, a railway spokesman confirmed plans to add six more rail lines to the Qinghai-Tibet railway. The six new tracks include one from Lhasa to Nyingchi and one from Lhasa to Xigaze, both in the Tibet Autonomous Region. Three tracks will originate from Golmud in Qinghai province and run to Chengdu in Sichuan province, Dunhuang in Gansu province, and Kuerle of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The sixth will link Xining, capital of Qinghai, with Zhangye in Gansu. The six lines are expected to be completed and put into operation before 2020. [11]

Possible stations include:

Engineering challenges

The Vertical Sectional Diagram of Qinghai-Tibet Railway (Golmud-Lhasa section)

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. Chinese engineers dealt with this problem by building elevated tracks with foundations sunk deep into the ground, building hollow concrete pipes beneath the tracks to keep the rail bed frozen, and using metal sun shades.[12] Similar to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System portions of the track are also passively cooled with ammonia based heat exchangers.

Kunlun Pass

The air in Tibet is much thinner, with a oxygen partial pressure being 35% to 40% below the partial pressure at sea level. Special passenger carriages are used, and several oxygen factories were built along the railway. At this altitude in these latitudes, water in toilets must be heated to prevent freezing. The Chinese government claimed that no construction worker died during the construction due to altitude sickness related diseases. [13] The railway passes the Kunlun Mountains, an earthquake zone. A magnitude 8.1 earthquake struck in 2001. Dozens of earthquake monitors have been installed along the railway.

Economic and environment 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[14]. This is expected to boost and transform 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. Trash is collected into two sealed containers in every car (not thrown on the tracks). They are taken out at the terminus.[15]

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.[16]

The effects of this railway on wild animals such as Tibetan antelope and plants are currently unknown. Thirty-three overpasses were constructed specifically to allow continued animal migration. Here is the Google Maps satellite image of one such bridge.


China has been criticised for having built the railway to strengthen its political control over Tibet. [17]

In particular, Human Rights Watch and the International Campaign for Tibet have alleged that the railway will marginalise Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region by encouraging further immigration from the rest of China.[18][19] Tibetans find it increasingly difficult to compete in the job market against skilled ethnic Han workers.[citation needed] Most of the workers on the railway were Han.[citation needed]

They have expressed concerns that the Chinese government will use the railway to strengthen its military presence in the Tibet Autonomous Region and to further exploit Tibet's natural resources and damage its environment.[18]

Bombardier Transportation, a Canadian company, has faced international criticism from some organizations for constructing rail cars for the project.[20][21][22]


See also

  • PeruRail — Second highest railway in the world


  • M.W.H., Railroad in the clouds, Trains March 2002
  1. ^ [1] Report of inauguration, accessed 1 July 2006
  2. ^ Shanglin, Luan, editor (2006-04-13). "Tibet's 1st railway to start unmanned operation". Xinhua. Retrieved 2006-04-14. 
  3. ^ Shanghai strives for straight train to Lhasa, Access Tibet Tour,, retrieved 28 June 2009 
  4. ^ 连线青藏铁路总设计师:沿途尚预留13个车站_新闻中心_新浪网
  5. ^ China rolls out railway, BBC News. Retrieved 30 June 2006.
  6. ^ Xinhua News Agency (24 August 2005). New height of world's railway born in Tibet. Retrieved 25 August 2005.
  7. ^ Bombardier (25 February 2005). Bombardier Awarded A Contract For High Altitude Passenger Rail Cars In Tibet. Retrieved 25 August 2005.
  8. ^ Extension plans. Retrieved 28 June 2006
  9. ^ Sun Bin: Qinghai Tibet railway videos
  10. ^ "China to link Nepal with Tibet railway line". Zee News. 2008-04-25. Retrieved 2008-05-01. 
  11. ^ "Qinghai-Tibet railway to get six new lines". China Daily. 2008-08-17. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  12. ^ Wired Magazine Issue 14.07. [2]
  13. ^ News on Chinese government website (in Chinese) quotes: The vice president of Qinghai Medical University, Dr Gerili, said "Because of proper preventions and treatments, among tens of thousands of workers from low altitude, no one died due to altitude sickness. You cannot deny that it's a miracle."
  14. ^ News - Qingzang railway transported .73M passengers, boosts Tibet economy, in Chinese
  15. ^ News - 旅客“三急”排泄物会熏臭青藏高原吗?
  16. ^ News - 修建青藏铁路 造福各族人民
  17. ^ International Campaign for Tibet: Tibet News: New ICT Report Finds Tibet Railway Built for Political, Not Economic Reasons; Under Current Framework of Chinese Rule, Railway Stands to Benefit Chinese Military and Migrants - Not Most Tibetans
  18. ^ a b Tracking the Steel Dragon: How China's economic policies and the railroad are transforming Tibet
  19. ^ Human Rights Watch Says Lhasa Railroad Increased Tibetan Concerns About Marginalization
  20. ^ Bombardier: OUT OF TIBET !
  21. ^ Bombardier Out of Tibet
  22. ^

External links

Simple English

The Qingzang railway (also called Qinghai–Xizang railway, or Qinghai–Tibet railway) is a railway line from Xining, Qinghai Province, to Lhasa in Tibet.

The line includes the Tanggula Pass, at 5,072 m (16,640 feet) above sea level the world's highest rail track and Tanggula Railway Station which is the highest railway station. The 1,338 m Fenghuoshan tunnel is the highest rail tunnel in the world, at 4,905 m above sea level. The 3,345-m Yangbajing tunnel is the longest tunnel on the line. It is 4,264 m above sea level, 80 kilometres north-west of Lhasa.

More than 960 km, or over 80% of the Golmud-Lhasa section, is at an altitude of more than 4,000 m. There are 675 bridges, totalling 159.88 km, and over half the length of the railway is laid on permafrost.[1] The railway which was finished in 2006 is said to not help the people of Tibet.[2]

It takes about 3 days to go from Lhasa to Guangzhou or Shanghai.



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