CEREMONIES were held in Lhasa and Golmud on June 29 to mark the start of work on the 1118 km Qinghai - Tibet railway (RG 5.01 p319). The two cities were decorated with bunting, flags and balloons for the ceremonies, with auspicious Tibetan designs displayed prominently. Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji told a large audience in Golmud that the line was ’an unprecedented project in the history of humankind’.

Representing the 10 construction teams, the Senior Engineer of the Ministry of Railways’ Number One Survey & Design Institute Xia Xianfang insisted that environmental impact of the work will be kept to a minumum. ’Every inch of grass will be protected’, he said. With 960route-km more than 4000m above sea-level, the line will be the longest high-altitude railway in the world. Construction is expected to take six years.

According to the 10th Five-Year Plan released by the Ministry of Railways on June 18, the Tibet line will cost 100bn yuan, out of a total budget of 350bn to be invested by 2005. Vice-Minister Liu Zhijun says around 14000 route-km will be built or upgraded, increasing the length of the national network to 75000 km and reducing journey times between major cities to give an average speed of 100 km/h.

  • The 157 km branch from Daxian to Wanzhou in Sichuan province was completed on June 26. Serving the Yangtze valley upstream of the planned Three Gorges dam, the line has 118 bridges and 56 tunnels totalling over 55 km, and has been under construction since October 1997.