CHINA’S Ministry of Railways has ordered 361 passenger coaches designed for use at high altitudes. Due to enter service from June 2006, they will be used on trains to Lhasa from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

The €213m order was placed at the end of February with the Qingdao-based Bombardier Sifang Power joint venture, which brings together the Montréal-based rolling stock builder, Power Corp of Canada and the Sifang subsidiary of China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Industry Group. Deliveries are scheduled to run from December 2005 until May 2006.

Because the trains will operate at altitudes up to 5000m, the coaches are to be provided with enriched oxygen supplies and ultra-violet protection. The order covers 308 standard vehicles, and 53 vehicles for ’tourist trains’, which Bombardier says will offer ’luxury sleeping rooms with individual showers, cars with a panoramic view, entertainment and dining in a luxurious environment’.

Minister of Railways Liu Zhijun announced in Beijing on March 6 that construction of the 1142 km route from Golmud will be completed by the end of this year. Tracklaying at the Lhasa end of the line started three days later. Chinese Railways expects to start test running on the line in July 2006, and to commence revenue services at the beginning of 2007.