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China’s Ambitious Plan for the Xinjiang-Tibet Railway

Are you familiar with the highest altitude that the train can reach? The answer lies in the Tanggula Pass of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, with an elevation of 5,072 meters, which currently holds the title of the world’s highest railway point, surpassing Peru’s Andes Railway by over 200 meters.

It is noteworthy that apart from China, no other nation has constructed a railway that exceeds 5,000 meters in elevation. The opening of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway on July 1, 2006, has provided invaluable experience for China’s high-altitude railway construction and addressed numerous issues in railway construction worldwide. It has instilled in the country the confidence, capability, and technology necessary for the development of Tibet’s subsequent railway, particularly the Xinjiang-Tibet Railway, which is expected to be built at an elevation of roughly 4,500 meters.

The Xinjiang-Tibet Railway is presently in the planning and exploration phase. According to preliminary plans, it will originate from the Hotan region in Xinjiang, traverse the Ngari and Shigatse areas in Tibet, and conclude at Lhasa Station in the Tibet Autonomous Region. The railway’s entire length is approximately 2,000 kilometres and was included in the revised “Medium and Long-term Railway Network Planning” in 2008.

xinjiang tibet railway

Challenges need to face by Xinjiang Tibet Railway 

Constructing the Xinjiang-Tibet Railway will be an arduous task. The proposed route’s average altitude is predicted to be above 4,500 meters, and winter temperatures along the way can reach -40°C, with oxygen levels only at 44% of those in inland areas. With these statistics in mind, the construction’s complexity is foreseeable. Furthermore, the construction team will face a rigorous test in working at an elevation of 4,500 meters.

Given the difficulty of construction, what are the reasons for planning the Xinjiang-Tibet Railway?

Because of the following reasons:

Firstly, this route features a plethora of stunning landscapes that have immense development potential. The proposed route of the Xinjiang-Tibet Railway is set to traverse the world-renowned Kunlun, Gangdise, and Himalayan mountain ranges, as well as dozens of glaciers, over a thousand kilometres of the Gobi Desert, and snow-capped mountains. The line passes through lofty peaks, the Qiangtang Grassland, and hundreds of miles of uninhabited land. Kunlun Mountain holds a revered status in the hearts of Chinese people, akin to a sacred mountain, while the Qiangtang grassland has always been shrouded in mystery due to its remoteness. Once the Xinjiang-Tibet Railway is operational, it will become a much-coveted railway line among travel enthusiasts.

Secondly, the opening of the Xinjiang-Tibet Railway will contribute to the peace and stability of Tibet’s border regions. It will also enhance communication and exchanges between Tibet, Xinjiang, and other provinces in politics, economy, culture, and tourism. Furthermore, it will drive economic development in both regions, promote poverty alleviation, and contribute to the goal of achieving common prosperity for the entire nation.

Thirdly, the opening of the Xinjiang-Tibet Railway will have significant national defence implications. Tibet is a sparsely populated border province with a very long border, and border protection is a major challenge, with frequent conflicts occurring. As such, the Xinjiang-Tibet Railway will serve as an important transportation channel during wartime, complementing the other four railways into Tibet and enabling the timely support of the entire nation in defence of the country’s territorial integrity.

Given the difficulty and cost of construction, there is no specific timeframe for the start of construction. It is estimated that construction will commence after the opening of the Sichuan-Tibet Railway, with a conservative estimate of starting construction in 10 years and opening in 20 years. However, with China’s rapid technological development and increasing national strength, early construction and opening are not out of the question. Let us wait and see.

About the author

The Tibetan Travel website's creator, hailing from Lhasa, is a cultural enthusiast. They promote responsible tourism, connecting the world to Tibet's beauty and heritage. Awards recognize their contribution.

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