Travels in Tibet International

China inaugurates new rail-lines in Tibet

Seven years after it began an ambitious rail journey from Beijing to Lhasa, China’s railway plans for Tibet are firmly on track with the inauguration of two new rail lines going west and east from Lhasa. The extended lines, (251 kms) from the Tibetan capital to the city of Shigatse on the west and (433 kms) from Lhasa to Nyingchi still under construction to the east, will effectively link Tibet to India, Nepal and Bhutan as well, all part of the Chinese government’s mission 2020 for infrastructure in Tibet.

The lines are also seen as a “triangular defence” for China, allowing it to rush troops and military hardware to its sensitive southern borders with India at short notice. On Thursday, a Chinese defence ministry spokesperson answered Indian concerns over the proximity of the rail line to India’s borders by saying, “I hope this will not be over interpreted by the Indian side.” The railway simply aims to raise “economic development and living standards” in Tibet, said Col Yang Yujun in Beijing.

By 2020, China hopes to build 1,300 kilometres of railway lines in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), as well as more than 1,10,000 kms of roadways, many of which will work as feeder lines to the railway stations that dot the line. On a visit by The Hindu to the Qushui railway station, about 80 kms from Lhasa, it is clear that capacity is key to Chinese plans. An imposing 4-story structure built onto a cleared plateau, with construction ongoing all around it, the station could easily process close to 5,000 passengers over the course of a day. Yet Qushui is a small stop on the Lhasa-Shigatse line, with only one train running up and down it everyday, and boards only 200 passengers a day today! For the two-hour ride, that cuts down travel between Lhasa and Shigatse by half, passengers pay between 40 Yuan- 170 Yuan (In Rs 240-680) per seat.

Officials tell The Hindu that the Qushui stop, like other train stations in Tibet, is powered by solar energy, pointing to the roof of the station that is wholly covered with solar panelling, and that the line to Shigatse had to be particularly routed so as not to disturb a black-crane natural reserve park on the way. Even so, environmental activists say they are concerned about its impact, given the major tunnelling through mountains, and point to a government study published in June, that said glaciers in Tibet had shrunk 15% since 1980, about 8,000 square kilometres in three decades.

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Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 8:19:55 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/new-railline-in-tibet-to-boost-trade-across-borders/article6369931.ece

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