Some 14 million people from across China will travel through the sparsely populated Tibetan Plateau in 2015 as a result of a new rail network for which several new railway lines are either under construction or being planned, reported China’s official Xinhua news agency Jul 6. The report said that during China's 12th Five Year Plan (2011-2015) period, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway will branch out in all directions, ending the history of no railways in the southern part of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and strengthening its ties with neighbouring provinces.
Currently, a 1,956 km, seven-year-old Qinghai-Tibet Railway runs between Xining, capital of Qinghai Province, and Lhasa, capital of Tibet. The service carried 10.76 million people and 56.06 million tonnes of cargo in 2012, the report said. But, once the new extension lines are completed, Qinghai-Tibet Railway Company estimates that its passenger and cargo loads will increase to 14 million and 90 tonnes, respectively, in 2015. The report cited Zhu Jianping, the company's vice general manager, as saying the railway network will bring major cities in western China closer to the TAR.
Planned extensions include the 253-km line linking Lhasa to Shigatse in southern TAR, which is expected to be completed by the end of this year. A new line between Lhasa and Nyingtri, a prefecture in the south-eastern part of the TAR, and which neighbours India, has also been under consideration for some years.
Also, two new lines will extend from Golmud city in Qinghai province, an important junction on the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. One will run toward Dunhuang in northwest China's Gansu Province and the other to Korla, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the report added. The construction of the 12.9 billion yuan, Golmud-Dunhuang line was kicked off last October and is expected to be completed in five years. It will join existing railways that link Xinjiang with Qinghai and Gansu provinces, forming a circular railway network upon completion.
And the 33.5 billion yuan, 1,222.9 km Golmud-Korla line passed a feasibility test in June and will provide direct rail transportation between the TAR and Xinjiang, reducing the trip between Lhasa and Urumqi by more than 1,000 km, the report added.
Besides, the government of Qinghai Province has proposed two more lines to link economic powerhouse Chengdu, capital Sichuan Province, and Golmud and Xining cities in Qinghai, the report added.
Also, China has said in the past that it was considering favourably repeated requests from Nepal to extend the Tibet railway network to its border and even to the capital Kathmandu. A strategic railway link to Pakistan has also been talked about in the past.