Tibetans have always dreamed of one day having an opportunity to travel by train in their own region.
Although railways have crossed countries for many years, Caidan Zuoma, who lives near Lhasa, has only seen them on her television set.
"I have always wished that one day I would be able to ride the 'floating black bug' and go to Beijing and other wonderful places in China. I imagine it is much better than a long, arduous journey on bumpy roads," she said.
In six years' time, when China finishes building the Qinghai-Tibet railway, Tibetans will be able to experience their dreams in real life.
The construction of the world's highest railway has topped the central government's go-west agenda in transforming the resource-rich but poverty-stricken western regions into prosperous areas.
Tibet is the only administrative region in China which has no railways, and road and air routes are the only connections to the outside world.
The lack of rail transport has become Tibet's Achilles' heel in aiming for an economic boom. Reliance on road and air routes is expensive for tours and raises the costs of doing business, dragging down Tibet's pace of economic growth.
Per capita income in Tibet is only half the national average, and it is one of the least developed regions in China.
Tourists at home and abroad while inspired by Tibet's natural beauty are daunted by the inconvenient commute, experts said.
More than 64 million Chinese people went travelling during the May Day holidays last year, but only 30,000 people toured in Tibet.
"Once the railway is built, travelling costs will be cut and people will have more access to Tibet," said Lobsang Gyaincain, mayor of Lhasa. "I hope construction can be kicked off as soon as possible."
Gawa, a Tibetan businessman in Lhasa, hopes he will be able to ship more local goods to the rest of the country, expanding the market.
Tibet is well known for husbandry products, textiles and arts and crafts featuring Tibetan culture. "The railway will smooth out trade in and out of Tibet," said Gawa.
Lobsang was upbeat about the railway bringing modern concepts and living styles into Tibet.
Tibet perches on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and has never had good connections with the outside world, although gradually the province is seeing mobile phones, the Internet and coffee bars.
Yunzum Gawa, a Tibetan living Buddha, said the railway would not affect religious affairs in Tibet.
"Western countries that have developed science, technology and transport systems still have religious believers," he said.
(China Daily 05/21/2001)