More than 960 kilometers of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway is built at an altitude of over 4,000 meters.
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Construction of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the first Railway linking the “Roof of the World世界屋脊”with the rest of China, officially kicked off simultaneously in the capital city of Southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region and in Golmud of Qinghai Province on the morning of June 29, 2001. It is due to be completed in 2007. The 1,142-kilometer Railway extends from Lhasa in Tibet to the traffic hub of Golmud in Qinghai Province in Northwest China.More than 960 kilometers are going to be built at an altitude of over 4,000 meters. And over half of it is to be laid on earth that had been frozen for ages. After connecting with Lhasa, the Railway extends southwards to Xigaze and Linzhi in Tibet, and may finally link Yunnan Province at Zhongdian. Tibet is the last provincial-level Region in China to be connected by railway, which is expected to bring more tourists and business opportunities to the world’s peak. The Ministry of Railways disclosed that the 10 domestic contractors hired to build the wholly state-funded project moved their work forces and equipment to the mountainous work sites where they began constructing the highest railroad in the world. The Railway will link Xining, capital of Qinghai Province, with Lhasa, capital of Tibet Autonomous Region. It will likely cover 1,925 kilometers. The already-existing northern section, running from Xining to Golmud, was opened to traffic in 1984. The State Council set up a committee to oversee construction of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway in February 2001.The Ministry of Railways followed up by installing a command headquarters for this project. Other government organizations related to the project have also been established both in Qinghai Province and the Tibet Autonomous Region. The Ministry of Railways disclosed a feasibility report, which was handed to the government at the end of April 2001 after over 1,700 engineers performed a survey along the Railway line. Shop drawings for several of the most difficult tunnels projects have been approved by the central government.
The Chinese Government has approved the construction of the first Railway linking the Tibet Autonomous Region with the rest of China. The Railway will extend from Lhasa in Tibet to Golmud, a traffic hub in Qinghai Province. It will be the longest and highest Railways in the world. The Railway is of strategic significance and will have a far-reaching impact politically, economically, and militarily. The railway, the elevation of which is the highest in the world, is also one of the most arduous projects in the history of mankind financed totally by the central government, with tenders offered to domestic companies. Advanced foreign technology, especially expertise on frozen-soil engineering was used in both feasibility studies and in construction. More than 960 kilometers, or over four-fifths of the railway, will be built at an altitude of more than 4,000 meters. And more than half of it will be laid on earth that is frozen for long periods of the year. However, China’s central authorities and experts have claimed that China is technically and financially capable of building the railway. The 26.2-billion-yuan (US $ 3.16 billion) project has drawn wide attention from observers at home and abroad.
The project will encounter three major problems, its geological impact, frozen soil and sheer cold and oxygen shortage caused by high altitudes. In response to concerns over the environmental impacts of the railway, many government departments were ordered to formulate protection plans to ensure ecological preservation during and after the construction process. Glacier experts have conducted investigations in the area and others have studied Railways built on frozen soil in Russia and Canada.
As the Railway will pass through a Region that is home to the sources of the country’s largest rivers, including the Yangtze and Yellow rivers, careful measures have been taken to prevent damage to vegetation. According to some experts, surface mantle with its root systems can be removed before earth removal for line construction takes place, and it can be replaced when the roadbed is completed. Another method to replace surface root systems could be the planting of grass. A green belt will be built along the planned railway. In line with the results of experiments, they have worked out measures to protect frozen earth during the construction process. To protect animal and plant resources in the Keke Xili, Qiangtang and other nature reserves in the area, extra bridges and passages for animals have been built in the nature reserve areas. Special measures have been taken to keep the environment along the railroad clean.
The project will play an important role in enhancing exchanges between ethnic groups, bolstering the exploitation of resources, reinforcing economic development in western China and consolidating national security. The Railway will bring modern concepts and living styles into Tibet. Before the completion of the railway, people and goods had to go into Tibet either by air, which was expensive, or by bus, which was slow.
The Qinghai-Tibet Railway will be part of a 1,925-kilometers track linking Xining, capital of Northwest China’s Qinghai Province, to Lahsa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region in southwest China.
Frozen Earth Problem Resolved
Chinese chief engineers have sorted out the technical problems related to the frozen earth, challenges confronting the construction of Qinghai-Tibet Railway. They have pledged the Railway will be able to run safely through the areas of frozen earth without any hiccups for 50 years. After four decades of research into frozen earth, Chinese experts say they now possess detailed knowledge of the layout and characteristics of the frozen earth in Tibet. The research results have helped them map out a clear geological map of the activities of frozen earth. More than 960 kilometers, or over four-fifth of the Railway will be built at an altitude of over 4,000 meters. And more than half of the 960 kilometers will be laid on earth that is frozen for long periods of time and is vulnerable to climatic changes. The area of the frozen earth in Tibet spans 550 kilometers, of which 190 kilometers are considered unstable frozen earth while only 100 kilometers are classified as critically unstable. Experts have discovered the rules of nature in terms of technological problems with building on the frozen earth and a series of solutions for the prevention of frozen earth incidents and projects to be undertaken in areas of frozen earth have been developed .Frozen earth is not a stumbling block anymore. China ranks third in the world in terms of total area of frozen earth, which covers 22.3 per cent of its total landscape, while its area of frozen earth at high altitude tops the international community. The issue of frozen earth is not a new subject. More than 100 years ago, Russia built a railroad to develop its resource-rich Siberian region, which ran across an area of frozen earth near the North Pole. Currently, more than 20,000 kilometers of railroad have been laid on frozen earth across the world, but mainly in Russia, China’s northeastern regions, Canada and the United States. But unlike their future peer in Tibet, these frozen earth railroads lie at higher altitudes, which are very stable. With strong sunshine earth in Tibet is susceptible to glacial movement and melting. The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is also plagued with landslides, mudflows, karst rocks, earthquakes and thunderstorms, all of which have dissuaded China from building the Qinghai-Tibet Railway in past decades. However, thanks to decades of research and studies on the Tibetan region, China has developed one of the world’s most advanced theories and techniques in dealing with frozen earth problems.
Oxygen No Problem for Trip
Passengers traveling along the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the world’s highest Railway are assured a safe and smooth journey as chief engineers on the project have worked out plans to successfully tackle an oxygen shortage problem. To help passengers who will have to adjust to the effects brought about by a shortage of oxygen, trains will provide air bags, air bars (where oxygen will be available to first-class passengers) and other facilities to ensure adequate oxygen supplies during their journeys. And trains will speed up when running through air sparse regions while stops in these areas will be developed after looking at air conditions. Oxygen shortages will be a key concern when building the Railway linking Tibet with the rest of China because it will mainly run through an area that has challenging weather conditions. Over four-fifth of the Railway will be built at an altitude of 4,000 meters where air pressure on average remains 60 to 70 per cent of that at sea level. Worse, there is less oxygen in the air at that altitude—about 38 to 46 per cent less than at the sea level. This will pose a big challenge as it will cut work efficiency, affect people’s health and reduce the work performance of engines. To battle the problem, workers building the Railway will work less and more reliance will be put on advanced facilities and equipment. Meanwhile, engineers have been working to improve the performance of Railway engines to meet the oxygen shortage problem.
Measures to protect Tibet’s Ecology
A scheme emphasized the protection of soil, vegetation, animal and plant resources and water resources. Along the route are five established nature reserves and a further sixth are planned, where a large number of endangered species like Tibet antelopes and black-necked cranes live. To protect animals and plant resources in nature reserves in the area, more bridges and passages for animal have been built on the section of the Railway in the nature reserves. More measures have been taken to keep the environment clean along the railway, and passenger trains will have proper rubbish disposal facilities on board. Any turf dug up will be replaced afterwards or regenerated by planting grass seeds. Experts said that the Railway is a gateway for coal and petroleum shipped from other parts of China into Tibet, resulting in a major shift in energy consumption in the region. People who live in the area along the Railway mainly burn timber and animal manure to cook meals, and for other daily life purposes.