A one-way railway connecting Dali to Lijiang, two well-known tourist cities in southwest China's Yunnan Province, went into operation Monday.
Bai Enpei, secretary of the Yunnan Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), heralded the newly-completed line as the "lifeline of the people in western Yunnan" while addressing a function organized Monday to mark completion of the railway.
Line construction began in December 2004 and completion was set for June 2008. Complex terrain and repeated revisions of the plan,including a decision to use electric power for traction instead of diesel-powered locomotive, led to delays, according to Su Huimin, an official in charge of publicity with Kunming Railway Bureau
The railway cost 4.55 billion yuan (669 million U.S. dollars), said Song Xiude, chief of Kunming Railway Bureau.
"The completion of Dali-Lijiang railway is of great significance for Yunnan to expand its rail network and increase contacts with interior areas of China and with countries in south and southeast Asia," said Song.
Song said the line will be linked to the southeast Asian rail network via a 350-km-long railway being constructed between Dali and Ruili, a city on the Sino-Myanmar border.
Construction of the Dali-Ruili railway line began in 2008 and will be completed in 2014.
Su Huimin with Kunming Railway Bureau confirmed Monday the railway was the first in western Yunnan and had a length of 162 km. The only land link between the two places before was a highway.
Along the railway, the region is mainly inhabited by ethnic minorities, and has many cultural relics, tourist sites, and natural resources. It is estimated more than five million residents in Dali, Lijiang, Diqing and Nujiang, all in western Yunnan, will be benefited by the newly completed railway.
Hong Jumei, a woman of the Naxi ethnic group in Lijiang, was overjoyed at the completion of the Dali-Lijiang railway.
"We Naxi people have been dreaming of seeing a train at the foot of the snow-capped Mount Yulong and now finally we have it in real life," said Hong. "I also think travel by train is safer, cheaper, and faster, and it will be very convenient to travel around in the future."
Shen Zhou, Dali-Lijiang railway project manager and also deputy engineer-in-chief with China Railway Tenth Group Co. Ltd., said the line, with 47 tunnels and 76 bridges, turned out to be the most difficult to build.
"Geological problems such as landslides, quicksand, cave-in were persistent through the entire process of construction, and we have built a 5,800-meter-long tunnel in a stratum known as tuff, a type of rock composed of compacted volcanic ash, which is the world's first of the kind," said Shen.
The Dali-Lijiang line has a designed speed of 120 km per hour. A single journey on it at present, however, takes three hours and 46 minutes to complete as currently, the train only travels at a speed of 80 km per hour out of safety concern.
This railway line will be expanded to link more towns in Diqing Tibet Autonomous Prefecture in western Yunnan, including Shangri-la, a popular tourist destination, said Song.
According to Song, a plan of another railway line, with a length of 144 km, between Lijiang and Shangri-la, the prefectural seat of Diqing, passed an assessment by the Ministry of Environmental Protection early this year to examine the proposed railway's impact on the environment.
This new railway will begin construction late this year, said Song.
Lijiang is well-known for its ancient town dating back 800 years ago. Set in a landscape representing the harmonious blend of different cultural traditions, Lijiang was inscribed in the World Heritage List of UNESCO in 1997. It hosted more than four million tourists in the first half of this year, including 300,000 travellers from overseas.
(Xinhua News Agency September 28, 2009)