The Qinghai-Tibet Railway


China has opened a new railway line to the Roof of the World. Its president Hu Jintao has called it “a miracle”. It is supposedly the highest railway line in the World running at a height of nearly 4000 metres above sea level for nearly 960 kilometres and the highest point is 5072 metres above sea level, 200 metres more than the previous record holder in the Andes Mountains of Peru.

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the world’s longest plateau railroad, stretches 1,956 kilometers from Qinghai’s provincial capital Xining to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. The section of 814 km from Xining to Golmud began operation in 1984 and the Golmud-Lhasa section started construction on June 29, 2001 and was completed and inaugurated on July 1, 2006 in time for the 85th Anniversary celebrations of the Chinese Communist Party.


Qinghai and Tibet Autonomous region are adjacent “provinces”. Qinghai is located to the North of the Tibetan Autonomous region and 1500 km from the Chinese East coast. It is where the Great Yellow River, the Mekong and the Yangtze rivers originate. It has a population of nearly 5 million with ethnic communities like Tibetan, Hui, Salar, Mongol and Others. It is rich in natural resources like petroleum, lead, zinc, copper, chromium, cobalt, nickel, iron, asbestos, mirabilite, gypsum, lake salt, potassium, boron and coal. The Qilian is called the “treasure mountains” and the Qaidam the “treasure basin”. It is is an important livestock breeding center. Its livestock includes sheep, yaks, pian niu (crossbreed of bulls and yaks) and horses. Qinghai produces large quantities of sheep wool, meat, leather and sausage casings for other parts of the country. It is an important producer of medicinal materials such as caterpillar fungus, antlers, musk and rhubarb. Qinghai Lake is famous for its scaleless naked carp. The province grows spring wheat, highland barley, broad beans, potatoes and rapeseed.

Tibet was seized by China in 1950. It has a population of 3 million with both Tibetan and an increasing Han Chinese population.

The railway needs special arrangements since it runs at such rarified heights. It needs special imported cars which has extra oxygen pumped into the cabins to prevent passengers from suffering altitude sickness and all railway cars are equipped with double-layer glass which is covered with anti-ultraviolet radiation film. Still there were reports of altitude sickness among the passengers aboard the first train to Tibet which left Beijing on July 1.

But the Tibetans have protested the opening of this new rail line citing fears that it will further erode Tibet’s traditional culture and destroy the surrounding environment. They say that it will lead to more influx of Han Chinese depriving Tibetans of jobs and increasing their hardship.

Many analysts have expressed grave concern over the intentions of the Communist regime. They fear that the Chinese communist regime’s main intention of constructing the Qinghai-Tibet Railway is for military purposes. It will enable faster deployment of troops to Tibet to ensure the control of Tibet’s borders adjoining India and Nepal.The Chinese communist regime also hopes to glean Tibet’s rich resources by using the railway. Uranium in Tibet would provide fuel for the regime’s plan to develop nuclear energy. Gold and other minerals would be transported to industrial regions along the coast by the railway.

 Brahma Chellaney has said in his column Dragon designs that “The $ 6.2-billion China-Tibet railway from Gormu to Lhasa is designed not only to aid the mineral exploitation of the Tibetan plateau but also to strengthen China’s hold on Tibet. When ready shortly, it will significantly augment China’s offensive military capability against India while making more vulnerable the fragile ecology of Tibet — the starting point of all the great Asian rivers. The railway passes through wildlife habitat, endangering Tibet’s famed black-neck cranes, yellow ducks, musk deer and chiru antelopes.A southward rail spur under construction from Lhasa to Xigatse — seat of the Panchen Lama’s Tashilhumpu monastery — will further bolster China’s military-transport and reinforcement capabilities against India. At short notice, China will be able to intensify military pressure on India by rapidly mobilising up to 12 divisions”.


Filed under India and the World, International Communism, International Politics, National Security, PRC

4 responses to “The Qinghai-Tibet Railway

  1. Shantanu

    Liked your two recent posts on China. Have a look at my recent essay: China – India’s new Blind Spot? at

    Look forward to your comments
    B Shantanu at

    jai.dharma AT

  2. Pingback: The Blog of a Liberal Mugged by Reality » How Big was Tibet Really? What was Really lost?

  3. Pingback: China Plans to Make the Qinghai-Tibetan Railway Profitable « The Blog of a Liberal Mugged by Reality

  4. Pingback: The Catapult » The Implications Of China’s Burgeoning Military Spending

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