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Special> China's Tibet: Facts & Figures> Beijing Review Archives> 2006
UPDATED: April 24, 2008 NO.26 JUN.29, 2006
History of the Railway

Around 1919 Sun Yat-sen proposed for the first time the building of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway in his 200,000-word book Plans for National Reconstruction, which served as an important reference for future construction plans of the railway.

1943 and 1945 An engineering team conducted a field survey of the area between Gansu and Qinghai provinces and drew a line profile map. However, due to China's lack of national strength and technology, the railway remained a "concept railway" in the five decades that followed.

1955 China's Central Government issued an order that a railway must be built on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Officials from the Ministry of Railways were sent to Tibet to conduct further field surveys.

January 1956 The No.1 Survey and Design Institute of the Ministry of Railways conducted a comprehensive survey of the 2,000-km route between Lanzhou and Lhasa.

September 1958 Construction of the section of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway between Xining, capital of Qinghai, and Golmud in western Qinghai began in secret, and the State Council set up a bureau in charge of the construction. In June 1960, the bureau for construction of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway was closed. The following March, construction was completely frozen for what would end up being more than a decade.

July 1973 The Central Government decided to resume work on a 652-km stretch between Hairug and Golmud.

March 1974 Construction of the Xining-Golmud section was fully resumed.

July 1978 Construction of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway was suspended again because of the two technical bottlenecks of laying tracks on the frozen earth and carrying out engineering projects under the conditions of insufficient oxygen and severe cold at high altitude. However, by then the western stretch of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway had been completed and it officially went into operation on May 1, 1984. This laid the foundation for the future construction of the section between Golmud and Lhasa.

May-September 1997 The Ministry of Railways twice organized experts to research and compare four schemes for building the rest of the railway. Due to major disagreements, the debate lasted through early 2000, when a feasibility study report on the Qinghai-Tibet Railway was eventually released.

June 29, 2001 Construction of the section between Golmud and Lhasa began.

October 2005 The laying of the tracks for the entire line was completed.

July 1, 2006 The Qinghai-Tibet Railway goes into trial operation, one year ahead of schedule.

High-Altitude Transport

When trains travel on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, at an average altitude of over 4,000 meters, they have special difficulties to deal with---low air pressure, insufficient oxygen, large fluctuations in temperature from day to night, strong ultraviolet radiation, frequent lightning storms, sandstorms and snowstorms, and the need to protect the vulnerable natural environment of the plateau. No transit system in the world has faced more challenges.

A number of measures have been taken to avoid mishaps. Every train is equipped with two sets of oxygen supply systems; anti-lightning protection has been installed; windows are coated to reduce ultraviolet radiation; double-layered glass has been installed; special pressure adjustment valves are implanted in the air conditioning system to maintain air pressure in the cars; sand filtration equipment is included in the air conditioning system, and garbage compressors and sewage collectors have been installed. The noteworthy thing is that every key system has an emergency backup.

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