After five years of arduous work, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the world's highest railway and the first railway linking Tibet and the other parts of China, was put into operation on July 1, 2006. People's Daily published on July 4 an interview with Liu Zhijun, minister of Railways.
These are the key excerpts of that interview.
According to Liu, scientific development is the thread that runs through the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. This is demonstrated in many ways.
The primary aim of the railway was to accelerate development, one of the features of the scientific development concept. As the bridge that links production, distribution, exchange and consumption, transportation is the foundation of a nation's industrialization and modernization.
Backward transport facilities to date have greatly restricted the economic and social development of Qinghai and Tibet.
In Liu's opinion, the railway will improve the transport situation on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, optimize the investment climate in Qinghai and Tibet, and will improve rational exploration of the region's competitive resources.
The railway also aims at balancing out the unequal paces of development of the different regions, and between urban and rural areas. More significant, it will also be instrumental in constructing a new socialist countryside.
Statistics show that the purchasing power of 100 yuan (US$12.5) in Lhasa is equivalent to only 54 yuan (US$6.75) in inland areas. Prices of essential materials like coal, petroleum and cement are much higher than in inland provinces. High transportation costs are a major reason for this.
The railway is a major extension to existing rail networks in west China, a factor which strengthens infrastructure, a major part of the Western China Development Strategy.
It will facilitate the movement of people, materials, capital and information in and out of Qinghai and Tibet, and greatly reduce transport costs in and out of Tibet.
Liu highlighted that the railway is also a good example of how to achieve sustainable development. The railway route runs alongside an ecosystem peculiar to the region, abundant in rare and unique species of flora and fauna, and diversified natural sceneries. It is a fragile environment, which the railway attempts to not damage despite its huge transport capabilities. Energy consumption and pollution levels are low, and a limited amount of land was used in the construction.
During its construction, great importance was attached to the protection of the fragile ecosystem. An environmental protection supervision system was introduced, for the first time, to the construction process. 1.54 billion yuan (US$192.6 million) was also allocated to environmental protection.
Liu described it as a "green railway".
But that's not all. The construction of the railway is also an embodiment of people-centric values.
First, it realizes the long-cherished wishes of the Qinghai and Tibet people for benefit for all ethnic groups along its route.
Second, the health of workers building the railroad was a priority, so much so that there were no reports of deaths from altitude sickness, the spread of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) or the plague.
Third, designers envisioned a railway of high standard and quality to meet increasingly challenging travel demands. To achieve this, traveling time is reduced where possible and the trains pass through the oxygen-deficient areas in the quickest time possible, facilities are made as reliable as possible for as little need for maintenance as possible, and operation and management personnel numbers are kept to a minimum.
Passenger trains can reach speeds of up to 120 kilometers per hour in unfrozen areas and 100 km per hour in areas where they travel over frozen terrain.
There are no guards on duty at 38 of the 45 railway stations along the Golmud and Lhasa section.
Liu stressed that China achieved breakthroughs in frozen zone engineering, railway architecture integration with the local natural and cultural sceneries, and the introduction and innovation of world-class technological equipment.
Further, Liu pointed out that the railway will strive to attain first-class safety: advanced equipment maintenance, and highly trained staff; operation and management: the rational allocation of transport capabilities, a scientific management, and effective environmental protection; and service: creating an innovative railway transportation product which is characteristic of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and is tailored to customers' needs.
(China.org.cn by Yuan Fang, July 6, 2006)