- by Beatrice
- Last Updated: 2018-04-24
At the onset, it is good to point out that it is advantageous for Tibet to have good railroads, for railroad networks are the backbones of the industrial development of any region. Hence, if Tibet wants to become industrially relevant, it should be connected to the other cities of China by railroads. Moreover, if Tibet wants to enhance its tourism industry, it must have a viable network of railroads. The Chinese National Government deemed it necessary to construct railroads connecting Tibet to the rest of China, and eventually, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway was built and inaugurated on July 1, 2006.
Marvelous Engineering to Build the Highest Railway in the World
The odds and difficulties in building the Qinghai-Tibet Railway were great and building this railway network necessitated state-of-the art engineering. Some experts, however, had previously said that building railway across the Kunlun Mountains would be “next to impossible.” Why?—because the region has one of the harshest weather conditions in the world. Yet, this apparent impossibility of building the Qinghai-Tibet Railway did not deter its builders from actualizing this seemingly impossible feat. Moreover, to further understand the immense difficulties faced by the builders of this railway, you must understand the following factors:
- The problem of distance and apparent impossibility of Building across the Kunlun Mountains
The present railway from Xining to Tibet has a length of 1,956 km or 1,215 mi which is almost one fourth of the earth’s radius. Building railways of such magnitude is a no mean feat. Moreover, it necessitates building 675 bridges across steep gorges and ravines. Additionally, it requires drilling underneath mountains to create tunnels like those of the Fengsuoshan Tunnel which is 4,390 ft long and New Guanjiao Tunnel which is 12,100 ft long.
The difficulty of realizing this project is further compounded by the harsh weather conditions and the high altitude. Yet, engineers were able to accomplish this feat in October of 2005 paving the way for the inauguration of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway on July 1, 2006.
- The Problem of Permafrost
Building railroad tracks on good soils would be easy. However, building railroads on lands that have been frozen all throughout the year is a hell of a challenge! A huge part of the Qinghai-Tibet railway was built on permafrost—soils or grounds below zero degrees Celsius for most of the year. If you would build railroad tracks on this permafrost, chances are, the grounds would be unstable, and if trains pass by, they would heat up the permafrost causing it to thaw and the tracks to buckle.
To solve this permafrost problem, Chinese engineers had to devise new techniques and use crushed rocks to insulate the frozen ground to keep the ground stable. For this reason, the next time you would travel via the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, you should always remember that you are traveling via an engineering wonder.
- The Need for Enormous Resources and Manpower
The construction of Qinghai-Tibet Railway involved around 20,000 workers and necessitated more than 6,000 industrial equipment. These men together with the enormous number of equipment worked feverishly and alternately in harsh and freezing environments to accomplish this great feat. Workers had to be supplied with portable oxygen tanks during the construction process because the oxygen level at the construction sites are generally between 35 to 40 percent below that of the sea level. The laying of tracks likewise was done from both directions. Additionally, it took several years to complete the 1,956-km Qinghai-Tibet Railway.
- The Kunlun Earthquake Zone Problem
The Qinghai-Tibet Railway traverses the Kunlun earthquake zone. This zone had seen and experienced earthquakes of 7.8 magnitude in the past. The Kunlun area is traversed by the Kunlun Fault which is due to the eastward Tibetan plateau motion in relation to the Eurasian plate. Hence, building a sturdy and reliable railway across the Kunlun Mountains had to take into consideration this very active fault line.
- The Need for Train Carriages Designed for High-altitude Travel.
The average elevation of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway is around 4,500 m above sea level. Hence, the train carriages for this railway are designed with systems that provide oxygen-enriched ventilation. The carriages are equipped with UV-protection systems likewise.
What to Expect along the Qinghai-Tibet Railroad Journey?
The number of visitors to Tibet increased a hundredfold after the Qinghai-Tibet Railway was inaugurated on July 1, 2006. Passengers going to Tibet via the seven cities of China, namely, Beijing, Chongqing, Chengdu, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Lanzhou, and Xining can now enjoy direct overland railroad trips to Tibet. Hence, almost anywhere from China, you can now have a direct trip to Tibet. All trains going to Tibet will surely pass via Xining—the point of origin of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.
The travel time from the abovementioned cities to Tibet may take several hours. Furthermore, the trains that run the Qinghai-Tibet Railway are mostly operational at the speed of 120 km/h over ordinary tracks; however, they usually run at the speed of 100km/h when plying the sections over the permafrost.
Trip to Tibet is Never Boring!
The trip from Beijing to Tibet, for example, usually takes around 41 hours. This long travel time, however, doesn’t mean that these trips to Tibet would be generally boring. Nope! These trips are quite exciting for along the way, there are plenty of awesome views to behold. Moreover, there are some stations that have viewing platforms that allow tourists to take pictures for several minutes. The train facilities likewise are great, allowing you to take a goodnight sleep or a nap if you need one.
All Trains to Tibet Pass through Xining
All the railroads from various parts of China converge in Xining which is the pivotal point of all railroad trips to Tibet. It is also where the Qinghai Tibet Railway really begins. Xining and the rest of Qinghai province also have high elevation because a large part of the province is situated at the Tibetan Plateau.
Qinghai Province is, of itself, a veritable tourist destination likewise. It has a cool weather during summer that endears it to the lowland tourists who want to escape the warm weather of the lowland. It is advisable, therefore, to take a day trip of Qinghai Province to visit some of its scenic spots and to acclimatize yourself to high-altitude prior to arrival at Tibet. Xining, being around 2,275 meters above sea level would surely serve as a good place to slowly adapt yourself for the Tibet atmosphere.
Exciting Train Ride from Xining to Tibet
From Xining, you can begin the breathtaking railroad trip to Tibet. This trip is definitely made more impressive by the marvelous views along the Tibetan Plateau. As your train moves away from Xining, you can readily take a glimpse of the famous Qinghai Lake along the way. This lake is the largest saltwater lake in China and is located 100 km west of Xining.
It also has the Bird Island which is famous for being the natural stopover of migratory birds from Europe and other parts of Asia. Moreover, the trip to Tibet from Xining is made doubly dramatic by the towering Kunlun Mountains and the slithering rivers and clear streams along the way that readily serve as the backdrop of your travel.
From Golmud to Lhasa
The first leg of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway ends at Golmud. From there, the train will pass 34 stations more before arriving at Lhasa. There are stations along the way that have scenery-viewing platforms such those of the Yuzhu Peak station, Chumaer River station. Tuotuo River platform, Tanggula Mountain platform, and many other stations. Moreover, if you are riding a tourist train from Xining, you can get off the train at the abovementioned stations and take photos of the scenic views from scenery-viewing platforms. Tourist trains usually make a 15-minute stop at these stations to allow tourist passengers to bask at and take photos of the scenic views.
Soft Sleeper Cabins and Hard-sleeper Cabins
There are many trains from different parts of China that pass via Xining going to Lhasa. One of these trains is called the “Z6801.” It usually leaves Xining at around 14:01 and arrives at Lhasa by 11:10 the next day. This train has pressurized cabins and is equipped with oxygen altimeters. The carriages of this train are highly sealed likewise. Moreover, the windows are equipped with ultraviolet filters that readily protect travelers from UV radiation.
There are also two types of cabins on board this train: first, there is the first-class cabin called the "soft sleeper cabin” which has four beds; there is also the second-class cabin called "hard sleeper" that is equipped with 6 beds.
Booking a Train Ticket to Tibet
The Qinghai-Tibet Railway has become one of the busiest railways in the world soon after it was inaugurated. This is because many tourists from around the world are desirous of visiting Tibet—the Roof of the World—and for this reason, tourists must book in advance to get hold of a train ticket to Tibet. Moreover, it is hard to book a travel to Tibet if you are traveling alone as a tourist. Hence, more often, it would be advisable for you to join a tour group to make it easy for you to travel to Tibet.
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