China’s controversial train route to Tibet has finally been
completed. The pan-Himalayan railway stretches from the Tibetan capital of Lhasa north to the
Besides the fact that it crosses through remote snow-covered regions of Asia, this railway is noteworthy for several
reasons. For one thing, it was in the planning phase for decades. The project began in 1958, eight years after Chinese
troops invaded Tibet. The first section, from Xining to Golmud, was finished in 1984. In 2001, China’s central
government allocated $3.1 billion to begin construction on the second section, from Golmud to Lhasa.
Although the railway is an engineering marvel that will improve the flow of transportation in and out of the
impoverished region, some worry that Tibetan culture is now in grave danger, and will become diluted with this new
development and access. (Here’s one opinion arguing against that fate.) Furthermore, there are
environmental concerns about global warming and the high altitude of the rail line. This is the highest up a train has
ever gone (higher than Peru’s Andes railway), and as the world’s most elevated train route, it is equipped with special
airplane-like insulated cars to insure safety at high altitudes. Scientists fear that global warming could cause
serious problems fifty years from now, if land that is normally frozen begins to melt around the rail line.
Despite the announcement that construction is complete, trial operation with locomotives will not begin for at least
another eight months, in the summer of 2006, with an official opening slated for sometime in 2007.