China opens world's highest railway to Tibet

Train over less than permanenet perma-frost is now cruising into Lhasa.
A couple of interesting articles about the new train service.

[quote]China opens world’s highest railway to Tibet
by Peter Parks Sat Jul 1, 6:47 PM ET

GOLMUD, China (AFP) - The first train on the world’s highest railway arrived in Tibet early Sunday, linking the remote Himalayan region with the rest of China in a symbol of power that President
Hu Jintao hailed as a “miracle.”

Hu Saturday launched the rail line at the mountain outpost of Golmud in China’s far northwestern Qinghai province, with the event held to coincide with the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.

“The project is not only a magnificent feat in China’s history of railway construction, it is also a great miracle for the world,” Hu said, as hundreds of railway workers and government officials applauded.

He then cut a ceremonial red ribbon as the first train with about 900 passengers on board departed at 11:05 am (0305 GMT) for the 1,142-kilometer (708-mile) trip to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.

The train arrived at Lhasa Railway Station at 00:31 a.m. Sunday (1631 GMT Saturday), the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Another train departed Lhasa for Golmud moments after the first train departed Golmud amid carefully choreographed dancing at the station by Tibetan and Han Chinese in traditional costumes, with all the events broadcast on state-run television.

The trains, with extra oxygen pumped into the Canadian-built cabins to prevent passengers from suffering altitude sickness, will traverse a mountain pass sitting 5,072 meters (16,737 feet) above sea level as they follow the Tibetan plateau.

They will cover hundreds of kilometers of permanently frozen ground, with state-of-the-art cooling methods used to ensure the rail line remains stable.

Railway worker Chen Shouzhong, quoted by Xinhua, said he had a headache during the journey to Lhasa but quickly recovered after treatment for altitude sickness.

Yu Hong, an official with the State Council or cabinet, told Xinhua passengers enjoyed beautiful scenery and were moved by greetings from Tibetans along the line.

At a cost of 4.2 billion dollars, Hu said the train was an important part of China’s historic efforts to modernize the country and further confirmation that the fast-developing nation was undisputably one of the world’s great powers.

“This success again shows the hardworking and wise people of China have the courage, confidence and ability to continue to create miracles,” Hu said.

“We also have the courage, confidence and ability to stand among the advanced peoples of the world.”

Aside from coinciding with the communist party anniversary, the launch of the train line followed the completion of the Three Gorges Dam in May and a second manned Chinese space flight last October.

However the train project has drawn controversy from those opposed to China’s rule over Tibet, which began in 1950 when officially atheist Chinese troops marched in to “liberate” the devoutly Buddhist people of the region.

Critics argue it will allow the national majority Han Chinese to flood in to Tibet, leading to the devastation of the local Tibetan culture, as well as accelerate environmental degradation of the pristine region.(more story at link)
Train to Lhasa[/quote]
And a good story from another, closer perspective.

[quote]Train to the Roof of the World
China’s new 1,200-mile railway crosses some of the harshest terrain on the planet. Plug in your oxygen supply. All aboard the Tibet express.
By David Wolman, Page 1 of 3 next

To score a ride sitting shotgun in a locomotive bound for Lhasa, it helps to like beer. I’ve just ditched my guide and wandered up to an unfinished train station at the edge of a dusty town high on the Tibetan plateau. Migrant workers, mostly Tibetans and Hui Muslims, wield sledgehammers, shovels, and drills, hurrying to finish work before midsummer. On July 1, China will celebrate the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the highest rail line in the world. Its 1,200 miles of tracks traverse 342 miles of permafrost, much of it at altitudes exceeding 13,000 feet. The end of the line is Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, the restive province China has been trying to subdue for half a century.

The engineers eventually make a decision of sorts. Because the train doesn’t leave for another five hours, they invite me to join them for lunch in town. “During the afternoon,” the English speaker says, “they’ll decide if you can ride the train.”

Twelve of us pile into a van and are soon seated in a grimy restaurant overlooking the main street, where Tibetans cruise around on colorfully painted motorcycles or play pool on tables set up outside. Wearing a navy-blue cap backward, one of the engineers – I’ll call him Lee – eats only a few bites of pig’s foot stew, tofu and beef, and lamb soup, but drinks cup after paper cup of Lhasa Beer. Every couple of minutes, one of the guys in our lunch party makes a toast, calling out, “Gan bei!” (“Dry glass!”) at which point everyone is obliged to drain their cup. Lee leads another chugging charge precisely when I need a respite from the drinking. The elevation here is well over 14,000 feet, after all. At this altitude, the effect of alcohol is magnified and could do who knows what when combined with the Diamox I’ve been popping. (The drug is the same stuff high-altitude mountaineers take to keep their brains from swelling.) But Lee wants me to drink. Holding up his cup of beer, he looks at me with glassy eyes. If I don’t gan bei, he says, I can’t ride the train. I grab my beer and knock it back, finishing before anyone.(story continues at the link)[/quote]
Thoughts on this new rail line?

I’d be a little concerned to be riding on chinese engineered rail that is built on permafrost. Seems like a cost cutting measure that could be less than safe. Permafrost can shift and melt, and usually only stays permafrost because of the vegetation growing on it, giving it some insulation.

When they build roads or pipelines or rail in northern Canada, they usually scrape the permafrost up and lay down a more dependable, solid foundation before building on it. It’s dificult and costly, but that’s considered the way to do it.

Must be magnificent views on that line, though. I’m not crazy about high altitudes. good idea to pressurize the cabins a bit.

The perma-frost issue is discussed in the 2nd article.
The rail cars are not presurized. That is discussed in the articles also.
They have employed some rather unique methods in dealing with the perma-fost issue. But, there is no way of knowing if these efforts will be successful.