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Tibet Gets First Railroad Tracks
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Snaking through a mountain range reputed to be "insurmountable even by eagles," the Qinghai-Tibet Railway will climb to a maximum altitude of 5,070 meters. That will make it the highest railway in the world.

On Tuesday morning, two 25-meter-long rails were laid at Amdo Station, about 440 kilometers from Lhasa at the foot of the Tanggula mountain range in Tibet. They were the first rails laid in Tibet in a project that began in 2001.

With an investment of 26.2 billion yuan (US$3.2 billion), China began work on the project to connect Golmud City in Qinghai Province and Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. It will serve as a bridge between the autonomous region, long isolated by its high altitude and severe natural environment, and the rest of the country.

The central government believes the project will put Tibet's social and economic development on track and spur development of the nation's western region.

The 1,142-kilometer link is scheduled to be completed by 2007.

Days before the track-laying ceremony, residents in Amdo County hung national flags on their tents and houses, a custom followed at major festivals.

More than 200 Tibetan herders arrived from as far as 100 kilometers away, some of them riding horses, to witness the event.

When the first rails were laid, onlookers cheered in Tibetan, Han and a variety of other languages.

Vice Premier Huang Ju sent a congratulatory message on behalf of the central authorities, and encouraged construction workers to build a world-class railway.

"The railway will benefit the people in Tibet and Qinghai," said Dazhag Danzim Gele, the Fourth Living Buddha of Dazhag Temple. "It will also make the pilgrimage to Lhasa more convenient."

Lhasa is a holy place for Tibetan Buddhists.

"This is the happiest event for me," said 63-year-old Surkang, a herder who tied a hada to the first rail. The hada is a white silk scarf regarded as a symbol of respect and a blessing. Surkang is looking forward to traveling by train instead of on horseback.

Tibet covers an area of more than 1.2 million square kilometers, or about one-eighth of China's territory. It has been the only provincial or regional area in the country without any railway.

(China Daily June 23, 2004)

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