-- The China-developed Fuxing bullet train enters official operation on the first electrified railway in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region.
-- The 435-km eco-friendly railway passes through 47 tunnels and 121 bridges, and crosses the Yarlung Zangbo River 16 times.
-- The Lhasa-Nyingchi railway is expected to promote exchanges among people of all ethnic groups, and accelerate the high-quality development of Tibet.
by Xinhua writers Liu Xinyong, Norbu Tsering and Zhai Yongguan
LHASA, June 25 (Xinhua) -- The first electrified railway in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region opened Friday, linking regional capital Lhasa with the city of Nyingchi, as "Fuxing" bullet trains enter official operation on the plateau region.
At 10:30 a.m., a green-painted bullet train loaded with passengers slowly drove out of Lhasa railway station for Nyingchi.
With a length of 435 km and a designed speed of 160 km per hour, the new railway is a single-line electrified railway. There are currently nine stations in the cities of Lhasa, Shannan and Nyingchi that can handle passenger and freight transportation.
The newly opened Lhasa-Nyingchi railway has provided southeast Tibet with access to railway services for the first time in history. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway first linked Tibet with the rest of China in 2006.
Compared with roads, the railway reduces the travel time from Lhasa to Nyingchi from 5 hours to 3.5 hours, and cuts the travel time from Shannan to Nyingchi from 6 hours to more than 2 hours.
BULLET TRAIN DEBUT
It is the first time that a Fuxing bullet train, which was independently developed by China, is transporting passengers in Tibet. The Fuxing bullet train series have been operating in all provincial-level regions of the Chinese mainland.
"The running of Fuxing bullet trains in Tibet once again showed new highlights of China's railway domain to the world, and will certainly help advance Tibet's high-quality development," Qizhala, chairman of the regional government, said Friday.
The bullet trains in Tibet are a customized version for the plateau region. It has continuous oxygen supply equipment inside and can be powered by internal combustion and electric power.
"The train ride is very quiet and comfortable. I'm so excited that I can take a bullet train in Tibet," said Kelsang, a 51-year-old passenger from Chanang County in Shannan.
The train is also environment friendly, as its electric traction system that will be in use for most of the time discharges no waste gas or dust, said Chen Bin, who is in charge of a section of passenger train operations in Lhasa.
The railway is located in the valley between the Gangdise Mountains and the Himalayas on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and over 90 percent of the track sits more than 3,000 meters above the sea level, said He Niangzhe, a designer of the Lhasa-Nyingchi railway with the China Railway Eryuan Engineering Group Co., Ltd.
"The topographic and geological conditions are extremely complex," He added.
It passes through 47 tunnels and 121 bridges, and crosses the Yarlung Zangbo River 16 times. Tunnels and bridges account for about 75 percent of the total length of the railway.
Over the past more than six years, over 130,000 workers have been laboring in the mountains to build the railway. The construction team has overcome multiple challenges including the high temperature of rocks, frequent rock bursts, as well as difficulties in strengthening the subgrade of the railway.
Shang Xiaowei, a 51-year-old truck driver, had transported cement for the railway in the past more than six years, witnessing the whole process of the railway construction.
"I'm happy and exhilarated to see the opening of the line," Shang said.
The railway's investment for environment protection was about 1.2 billion yuan (185 million U.S. dollars), higher than any other railways built during the same period, said Wang Yumin, an engineer with the Tibet Railway Construction Co., Ltd.
"Drones and other equipment were used for ecological monitoring, and sewage treatment facilities were built on the construction sites," Wang said.
The opening of the railway is not only exciting news for tourists but also a big event that people in Nyingchi have eagerly awaited, said Zhang Rundong, deputy Party chief of Nyingchi's tourism development bureau. "We are confident that the tourism sector will see strong growth in the future."
The city will take the opportunity to upgrade its infrastructure, develop more quality tourism products and improve services and the tourism environment to realize high-quality development of the industry, Zhang added.
"I want to take the train to Nyingchi for sightseeing first and see if I can sell my products there," said 58-year-old Garu, founder of a Tibetan-style apron making cooperative in Jedeshol Town, Gonggar County in Shannan.
Her workshop is located just about 100 meters from the new railroad. It manufactures not only Tibetan aprons, but also sofa covers, clothes and shoes. The workshop has employed 25 locals, offering an average monthly salary of 3,000 yuan.
"If my products sell well in Nyingchi, I will try to market them to other areas," Garu said.
Dobrgyal, 36, is hopeful that the opening of the railway will bring more tourists to his homestay. He and his wife have decided to invest another 1 million yuan in expansion works to add 11 new rooms and build a display and sales room for local products.
Zhang Honglin set up an egg production site in Shannan last year. He deems the opening of the railway a "great boon" as it will lower transportation costs.
"I had been worried about the high logistics cost in Tibet. Now with the railway, we can focus on our development without any such concerns," Zhang said.
The railway's annual freight transport capacity of 10 million tonnes provides strong support for the flow of goods, which will promote economic development and improve people's lives.
(Xinhua reporters Liu Hongming and Zhang Zhaoji also contributed to the story; video reporters: Dainzin Nyima Chodrup, Zhang Zhaoji, Dong Linna; video editor: Peng Ying)