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Trains Are a Cheaper Way to See Tibet
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Sleeping on a train's hard berth from Beijing to Tibet may cost you less than US$100 in the near future, only one-third of a one-way air ticket at present.

The Price Department of the National Development and Reform Commission yesterday published a document on its website about the provisional pricing policy of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.

The document set interim prices for both passenger trains and cargo transport between Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region and Golmud in Northwest China's Qinghai Province, part of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.

Cargo transport, which began operation yesterday, will charge 0.12 yuan (1.4 cents) per kilometre for 1 ton of cargo.

Passenger transport, scheduled to begin on July 1, will have different pricing rules.

The luxurious tourist train's ticket price will be decided by the market, which ensures no government interference. But the ordinary train ticket prices are fixed.

Based on the document, Jiang Weiping, an official with the Ministry of Railway, estimated that a hard seat ticket from Beijing to Lhasa will be sold at 380 yuan (US$46), a hard berth ticket will cost 776 yuan (US$93), and a soft berth ticket will charge 1,241 yuan (US$150).

With an investment of 24 billion yuan (US$2.96 billion), the Qinghai-Tibet Railway from Xining of Qinghai Province to Lhasa, a distance of 1,965 kilometres, is by far the longest plateau railway with the highest altitude in the world.

A total of 960 kilometres of the 1,135-kilometre Golmud-Lhasa section of the railway are at least 4,000 metres above sea level, which was completed in October 2005.

Trains are a cheaper way to travel than airplanes. Without discount, a one-way non-stop flight from Beijing to Lhasa costs about 2,430 yuan (US$293).

But Jiang stressed that the prices set by the National Development and Reform Commission "are just temporary."

"The exact prices will only be known after the State Council gives a notice around July 1," he said.

The document is good news to many people who dream of travelling to Tibet.

A report on Western China Metropolis News said 85 per cent of surveyed young people in Sichuan provinces expressed their desire to take a train to Lhasa.

"Travel agencies are also very interested in it," Sun Liqun, manager of domestic tourist products with China International Travel Service Head Office, told China Daily in a phone interview.

The current price that agencies offer on travel to Tibet is between 6,000 and 7,000 yuan (US$723 to 843).

Though not clear about how many train tickets travel agencies can get at what price, Sun is confident the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway to traffic will "cut the present offer by at least 2,000 yuan (US$241)."

With no complications, tourist products to Tibet by train can appear and be promoted in the market as early as April, she said.

By then, tourists will have four choices to reach Tibet, flying, a luxurious tourist train, an ordinary passenger train or bus.

"Tourist products to Tibet by train are unlikely to get popular at once, because supplies along the rail line are not abundant now," she said. But there is no doubt that both travellers and the Tibet Autonomous Region will benefit from the railway.

(China Daily March 2, 2006)

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