Beijing has made plans for a new high-speed rail link to be built on the world’s highest plateau. They expect it to be up and running in five to eight years to make the alpine Tibet region more accessible from inland provinces.
The call to begin the construction of the Sichuan-Tibet railway was issued during a two-day Communist Party Politburo meeting on Tibet presided over by President Xi Jinping. The 1,742-kilometer line between Chengdu, capital of the western Sichuan province, and a rail transportation hub, and the Tibetan capital Lhasa could be what leads the two countries to developing new infrastructure. The trains will travel along the new railway at nearly 200 kilometers per hour in rarefied air due to the elevation atop steep, rugged mountains.
China Railway Construction Corp, the state-owned contractor of the US$44.7 billion project, stated that a train ride from Chengdu to Lhasa will be equal in distance to traveling from Los Angeles to Vancouver, but at an elevation of more than 3,000 meters as Lhasa sits on a northern slope of the Himalayas, the mountain range that has many of the world’s highest peaks.
Lhasa is about 3,200 meters higher than Chengdu, and two of the 14 mountains the new line will pass through are higher than the 4,800-meter Mont Blanc, the highest in the Alps. Many permafrost areas, ravines, faults, and escarpments between Chengdu and Lhasa must be bridged or cut through, and the project has taken decades to design to surmount all the engineering challenges. Workers at both ends of the line are racing against time laying tracks to make the most of the warm season, before snow and the Himalayan cold currents make their jobs impossible. Upon completion, a train journey time from Chengdu to Lhasa will be slashed from the current 36 hours to about 9 hours.