The Qinghai–Xizang railway, Qingzang railway, or Qinghai–Tibet railway, is a high-elevation railway that connects Xining, Qinghai Province, to Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, in People's Republic of China.
The total length of Qingzang railway is 1956 km (1215 mi). Construction of the 815 km (506 mi) section between Xining and Golmud was completed by 1984. The 1142 km (709 mi) section between Golmud and Lhasa was inaugurated on 1 July 2006 by president Hu Jintao: the first two passenger trains were "Qing 1" (Q1) from Golmud to Lhasa, and "Zang 2" (J2) from Lhasa.This railway is the first to connect the Tibet Autonomous Region to any other province, which, due to its elevation and terrain, is the last province-level entity in mainland China to have a conventional railway. Testing of the line and equipment started on 1 May 2006. Passenger trains run from Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Xining and Lanzhou.
The line includes the Tanggula Pass, which, at 5,072 m (16,640 feet) above sea level, is the world's highest rail track. The 1,338 m Fenghuoshan tunnel is the highest rail tunnel in the world at 4,905 m above sea level. The 4,010-m Guanjiao tunnel is the longest tunnel from Xining to Golmod and the 3,345-m Yangbajing tunnel is the longest tunnel from Golmod to Lhasa. More than 960 km, or over 80% of the Golmud-Lhasa section, is at an elevation of more than 4,000 m. There are 675 bridges, totalling 159.88 km, and about 550 km of the railway is laid on permafrost.
Economic and environmental impact
With limited industrial capacity in Tibet, the Tibetan economy heavily relies on industrial products from more developed parts of China. Transport of goods in and out of Tibet was mostly through the Qingzang Highway connecting Tibet to the adjacent Qinghai province, which was built in the early 1950s. The length and terrain have limited the capacity of the highway, with less than 1 million tons of goods transported each year. With the construction of the Qingzang railway, the cost of transportation of both passengers and goods should be greatly reduced, allowing for an increase in volume—the cost per tonne-kilometer will be reduced from 0.38 RMB to 0.12 RMB. It is projected that by 2010, 2.8 million tons will be carried to and from Tibet, with over 75% carried by the railway.This is expected to help support the Tibetan economy.
The environmental impact of the new railway is an ongoing concern. The increase in passenger traffic will result in greater tourism and economic activity on the Tibetan Plateau.
Wood is the main fuel source for rural inhabitants in certain regions of Tibet. The damage to the ecosystem caused by cutting trees for fuel takes years to recover due to slow growth caused by Tibet's harsh environmental conditions. The railway would make coal, which is not produced in Tibet, an affordable replacement. However, the increase in fuel combustion due to increased human activity in an already-thin atmosphere may affect the long term health of the local population.