CHINA’s Ministry of Railways has launched a feasibility study for a 1654 km rail link to serve the Tibetan capital Lhasa. Part of a strategy to open up the country’s mountainous southwestern provinces, the new line would start from Dali in Yunnan province, and run westwards through an area close to the Indian border.

The 206 km branch to Dali was opened for traffic at the beginning of August. Joining the Chengdu - Kunming line at Guangtong, it was one of the projects due for completion this year under Chinese Railways’ ninth 5-year plan (RG 9.98 p611). The line is expected to handle 2 million tonnes of freight in 2000, rising to 8 million by 2008.

The extension to Lhasa is estimated to cost over 63bn yuan. It is intended to open up new routes from Tibet to the Pacific ocean and between southwestern China, Thailand and Myanmar. From Dali the line would head northwest up the valley of the Lancang river paralleling the Myanmar border to Baxoi and then turn west.

By following the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra river, the railway could reach the remote capital without climbing higher than 4000m above sea level. Earlier proposals had envisaged a route running south from Golmud, which would have had to climb above 5000m to cross the Tibetan plateau. o