In old Tibet, there was no highway in its truest sense, forcing Tibetans to rely on human and animal power in transport. Under the discouraging situation, entering or leaving Tibet was likened to climbing up a ladder leading up to the skies, and it took six to 12 months to make a return trip from Xining in Qinghai or Ya'an in Sichuan to Lhasa.

In the 1950s, the PLA men and local people surmounted great difficulties to build the Qinghai-Tibet and Sichuan-Tibet Highways. Automobiles rumbled into the region for the first time on December 25, 1954.

Nowadays, there are 15 trunk highways in the Tibet Autonomous Region, including the Sichuan-Tibet, Qinghai-Tibet, Xinjiang-Tibet, Yunnan-Tibet and China-Nepal Highways, as well as 375 feeder roads. By the end of 2000, highway mileage open to traffic added up to 22,503 km. Except for Medog County, which became accessible by highway only on seasonal basis in 1994, all the 73 counties, 77 percent of townships and 61.5 percent of the administrative villages in the region are accessible by highway. Asphalt-paved highways extend close to 20,000 km. In the capital city of Lhasa, a modern street network has taken shape, with sand and stone-paved roads having made way for asphalted streets. Major thoroughfares have six lanes apiece.

Despite so much progress, transport in the Tibet Autonomous Region still cannot meet the needs of rapid economic development. As Tibet is the only region in China that is not accessible by railway and waterway, and there are only eight air routes, there is a heavy dependence on highway transport. About 94 percent of goods and 85 percent of passengers are transported into or out of the Tibet Autonomous Region by road. Given this situation, transport construction will continue to center around construction of highway network in the years to come.

In old Tibet there was not a single permanent bridge. Major rivers were spanned by primitive bridges made from rope, or were crossed using yak hide and dugout wooden boats. Today, however, there are 374 bridges in their true sense.

Oil Pipelines

In the 1960s, automobiles were used to transport oil into the Tibet Autonomous Region. In 1977, an oil pipeline was built from Golmud in Qinghai Province to Lhasa, extending 1,080 km. China's longest and the world's highest, the pipeline has 11 pumping stations and one diversion station along the route. A refined oil depot has been built in Lhasa.

By the end of 2001, some 3.1 million tons of oil had been transported to Tibet through this pipeline. This helped put an end to the history in which Tibet was faced with a tense supply of oil.


The Tibet Autonomous Region is still not accessible by rail. In the 1950s, State departments concerned began making preparations for construction of a railway into the region. In the early 1980s, a railway was built from Xining, capital of Qinghai Province in the east, to Nanshankou in Golmud in the west as the first part of an intended Qinghai-Tibet Railway. Extending 846.9 km, the Xining-Golmud Railway is entirely above 3,000 meters, reaching its highest elevation at 3,700 meters.

In November 2000, President Jiang Zemin made an important instruction with regard to construction of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, demanding redoubled efforts. In December 2000, the State Development Planning Commission summoned a meeting to listen to a report on the preparation work, and submitted a proposal to the State Council for construction of the railway. The railway extends 1,118 km from Golmud in Qinghai Province in the east to Lhasa in Tibet in the west. It will cross a 600 km area that features permafrost, and over 960 km that rises 4,000 meters above sea level.

Construction of the railway started in the second half of 2001.


Aviation develops apace in the Tibet Autonomous Region. In 1956, the PLA Air Force defied the "forbidden zone in the air"to open the air route from Lhasa to Beijing. The ensuing decades saw success in opening domestic air routes from Lhasa to Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chongqing and Xi'an, as well as an international air route from Lhasa to Kathmandu, capital of Nepal.

The 1,100 km route from Lhasa to Chengdu carries some 100,000 passengers and 1,600 tons of goods a year.

The Gonggar Airport in Lhasa has been renovated to accommodate large jumbo aircraft, including the Boeing 767.

The Bamda Airport, built at an investment of 250 million Yuan, was commissioned in September 1994. The highest airport in the world has opened a route to Chengdu in Sichuan Province and Lhasa in the autonomous region.

Major Trunk Highways   Turnover Volume of Passenger and Freight Traffic by Region
Transportation Facilities   Highway, Bridge and Ferry
Goods Transported Out of Tibet   Goods Transported Into Tibet



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