China's first rail line to Tibet ready within 7 years

The Straits Times, 16 December 2000

New techniques will ensure that tracks will survive the Tibetean plateau's frozen ground and earthquakes

BEIJING - Beijing has finished planning for the first railway to Tibet, a link that would knit the restive Himalayan region tighter with the rest of China.

Until now, Tibet's harsh environment had frustrated Beijing's hopes for rail links with the region, leaving Tibet accessible only by tortuous roads or by air.

There were concerns that tracks laid on the Tibetan plateau's frozen ground would buckle, and worries about the earthquakes that often rock the region.

Engineers have now found ways to overcome those obstacles, and plans for a line to the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, have been submitted to China's cabinet.

At a news conference yesterday, Mr Ren Xigui, a spokesman for the Railway Ministry, said: 'Approval will come very soon and trains will be running within 5 to 7 years.'

The line will link Lhasa with Golmud, a city in neighbouring Qinghai province that has rail services to elsewhere in China.

Other major rail projects includeD a line connecting the south-western Chinese city of Kunming with Singapore, Mr Ren said.

The line would leave China either through Vietnam or Myanmar, although no start date for the project had been set, he said.

He said China's railways would make a 500-million-yuan (S$105-million) profit this year from passenger and freight traffic. Revenues were up 9.6 per cent compared to 1999.

Efficiency was raised by spinning off five separate corporations from the Railways Ministry, making trains run faster, optimising timetables and laying off or transferring 1 million workers, he said.

To finance construction of another 3,000 km of track in the next five years, China would issue 2 billion yuan worth of railway construction bonds, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

China now has 70,000 km of rail lines. —AP.