Friday, 30 July 2010

The Highest Railway in the World

The Tibetan railway is the world's highest, and was opened in 2006.  It's officially called the Qingzang railway. Trains run to Lhasa from Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Lanzhou and Xining. We took the train from Xining:

Xining to Lhasa destination board on our train

Carriages are specially equipped for high altitude travel, and include oxygen outlets. Although we'd already some experience of interesting train journeys (eg the Trans-Siberian), this journey, while not so long - only 24 hours from Xining to Lhasa - travels through some spectacular scenery. 

Although we were travelling during summer there were plenty of snow-capped mountains. 

There were few signs of life apart from some birds, animals, or occasional traffic using the road which runs alongside the train tracks for part of the distance.

cycling to Tibet
Tibetan wild asses
The highest point on the railway is the Tanggula pass at 5072m. While I didn't manage to get a photo of the station as the train doesn't stop there, I managed to snap this station at 4513m.

After the pass the train heads down to Lhasa which is 'only' at 3600m above sea level.

Lhasa station seen from Ganden monastery

The railway is somewhat controversial as Tibetan independence groups have seen the railway as a further sign of Chinese dominance over Tibet.  It makes it easier for Han Chinese workers and tourists to travel to Tibet, and for the government to send dissidents and mineral resources out of the province.

Some facts:
  • Tangula Pass is the world's highest station and highest railway track
  • The Mount Fenghuo rail tunnel is the world's highest at 4905m
  • There are 675 bridges
  • 550km of the railway is laid on permafrost
  • 33 overpasses were constructed specifically to allow continued animal migration
  • 960km of the railway are at more than 4000m altitude.
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