China’s state-owned railroad company has just inaugurated a high-speed train line in Tibet, nicknamed the “roof of the world”, with a 435-kilometer route that runs 90% above 3000 meters above sea level. The carriages have been equipped with an automated system to maintain a stable oxygen supply, which becomes scarce at those altitudes.
The line, which was inaugurated on Friday July 2nd, connects the Tibetan capital of Lhasa with the city of Nyingchi, giving all 31 provincial-level regions of mainland China access to high-speed rail travel.
The Lhasa-Nyingchi line has 47 tunnels and 121 bridges, accounting for approximately 75% of the entire route. This includes the 525-meter-long Zangmu Railway Bridge, the largest and highest arch bridge of its kind in the world. Train windows are also equipped with a special layer of glass designed to withstand the region’s high levels of ultraviolet radiation.
The Fuxing trains deployed on the nine-station Lhasa-Nyingchi line are powered by both electric and internal combustion engines. The dual-power engine enables them to achieve smooth traction during the 2.5-hour journey.
There are several curves along the way so the train must operate at about 160 kilometers per hour, much slower than the top speeds of 350 kph that commuters experience on many of China’s other lines. With the opening of the Lhasa-Nyingchi Railway in Tibet, all 31 provinces in mainland China are covered by high-speed railroads.
The new route is part of the Sichuan-Tibet Railway, a 1740-kilometer line that will eventually link Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, with Lhasa, shortening travel time between the two cities from 48 hours to 13 hours.
The state-owned China State Railway Group invested the equivalent of US$5.6 billion to build the line. The automated air supply system maintains oxygen levels at a constant 23.6%, slightly higher than the 21% average found in normal atmospheres.
About 40,000 kilometers of lines (the equivalent of the circumference of the earth) crisscross the country, linking all of China’s major megacity clusters. The network is expected to expand to 70,000 kilometers by 2035.
Like Japan’s Shinkansen bullet trains in the 1960s, the Beijing government sees its high-speed railroad as a symbol of the country’s economic power and growing prosperity.