Chinese experts have revealed key solutions to build world's top railway on western China's Qinghai-Tibet Plateau this week, in response to the world concerns for China's ability to complete such a grand project.
"Although we will meet world-level difficulties, we believe all barriers will be finally eliminated, based on our long-term feasibility study since the 1950s and similar foreign experience,” said experts and officials involved in the project.
The Qinghai-Tibet Railway runs from Xining, capital of Qinghai Province, to Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region. The first 845-km section from Xining to Gormo, also in Qinghai, was completed and opened to traffic in 1979. Construction of the last 1,118-km section from Gormo to Lhasa is scheduled to start this year.
Xu Yong, an official with the Ministry of Railways (MOR), said, "the first handicap will be the permanent frozen earth. About 550km of the railway will pass through such areas."
According to Xu, the frozen earth there is sensitive to air temperature changes, as a result of strong sunshine and frequent earth crust movements on the plateau. Therefore, any human activities, including railway building, will have a drastic influence on the earth.
"Fortunately, we have so far found the proper way of building railways on such special ground," disclosed Wu Ziwang, a noted expert on frozen earth projects.
Ran Li, chief engineer with the No.1 Survey and Design Institute under the MOR, agreed that they have conducted experiments in areas with an elevation of 4,750 meters, building roadbed, bridges, houses, water supply and drainage systems in frozen earth areas. Based on their experiments, they have worked out ways to protect frozen earth during the process of the project.
The measures to be adopted include appropriate height of roadbed, heat-insulating layers, and more elevated sections.
The second problem is that the power of a locomotive decreases as the height goes up.
According to Wu Xinmin, a locomotive expert with the MOR, ordinary locomotives can only exert 60 percent of its full power at a height of 4,000 meters or higher, while more than 960 kilometers, or over four-fifths of the railway section will be built at an altitude of over 4,000 meters, with the highest point hitting 5,072 meters." It must be a severe challenge for China's railway industry," said Wu.
He disclosed that diesel locomotives will be used on the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, and experts also consider electrification of the railway in the future, as well as taking advantage of local rich sunlight and wind energy as a supplement.
How to resolve the problem of oxygen shortage and low air pressure on the high-altitude and extreme-cold area and provide a comfortable condition for passengers is another problem.
Chinese experts have also found some solutions. Wu said they are now thinking of using airtight cars similar to airliners. Some other experts predicted that the world's first train with
equipment to provide oxygen and plateau-illness doctors will appear on the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.
As to the ecological environment protection, Ran said construction of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway will not bring "ecological disasters" to the project area, contrarily, it will play a key role in protecting the local ecological environment.
The construction will be well organized to protect vegetation on the plateau, with the top soil to be moved aside and then mostly restored after the roadbed is built.
To protect animal and plant resources in the Hoh Xil, Qiangtang and other nature reserves in the area, more bridges and passages for animals will be built on the section of the Qinghai-Tibet railway in the nature reserve zones, Ran said.
More measures will be taken to keep a clean environment along the railroad, such as closed passenger trains will be arranged on the rail line, and the garbage on the trains will be treated in designated places.
Ran said that people who live in the area along the railway mainly burn firewood and animal manure to cook meals and for other daily life purposes, which is detrimental to local fragile ecological environment.
The Qinghai-Tibet railway, upon completion, will play a very important role in protecting the environment on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, as it serves as a major passage through which coal, petroleum and other energy resources can be transported into Tibet from northwest China, Ran added.