Qinghai – Tibet Railway
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The Qinghai – Tibet Railway is the world’s highest railway that connects Xining, Qinghai Province, to Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region of China, with the designed maximum running speed of 160 km/h (99 mph). Built at high altitudes on the harshest and most complex terrain on earth, this railway is considered an engineering marvel.
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Qinghai – Tibet Railway Facts
- Opened: 2006
- Length: 1,956 kilometers (1,213 miles)
- Terminals: Xining Railway Station, Lhasa Railway Station
- Top speed: Xining – Golmud (140 km/h), Golmud – Lhasa (100 km/h)
- Travel time: around 21 hours
- Main stops: Golmud, Amdo, Tanggula, Nagqu
Qinghai - Tibet Trains and Tickets
The first passenger trains started running on the Qinghai – Tibet Railway in 2006. The maximum running speed of Qinghai to Tibet trains was 100 km/h (62 mph). Since 2015, the Xining – Golmud section of this railway has been speeded up to 140 km/h (87 mph)
Currently, there are six pairs of trains running between Xining and Lhasa. All of them are available daily. After the Lanzhou – Chongqing Railway opened, the Qinghai – Tibet Railway extends to more cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Changsha, Chongqing, Xi’an, Wuhan, Suzhou, Nanjing, and Chengdu, etc. Qinghai to Lhasa trains depart in the afternoon or evening and arrive the next day.
Qinghai – Tibet train tickets can be purchased online or at any railway station in Chinese mainland. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, tickets can be purchased one month in advance. During the pandemic, tickets can be purchased 15 days in prior. It is recommended that you buy your tickets as early as possible, especially for summer travel. Foreign passengers need their valid ID certificates, like passports, to book a Tibet train ticket. And they need to present ID certificates together with a Tibet Travel Permit to enter Tibet.
Qinghai – Tibet Train Facilities
Qinghai – Tibet Railway is the highest rail line in the world, much of it built on permafrost. To adopt the harsh high elevation environments, Tibet trains are specially built. The passenger coaches are Chinese-made 25T carriages. They adopt new technologies to meet the environmental and climatic challenges of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
Because of the lack of oxygen at such a great altitude, the coaches on Tibet trains are specially built to have extra oxygen pumped into them. Dispersive oxygen supply and distributed oxygen supply are adopted in the fully enclosed coaches to increase the oxygen content. And they have oxygen supply for each passenger through tubes. The oxygen tube is available at each seat and berth.
On Qinghai to Tibet trains, there are two soft sleeper coaches, eight hard sleeper coaches and four hard seat coaches. Each soft sleeper coach is composed of eight private compartments. A compartment consists of two upper and two lower berths. The fare is about 50% higher than the hard sleeper. Each hard sleeper compartment comprises six berths arranged in three levels on the two sides, without a door.
Also read Train Types and Seat Classes in China.
A dining car is available on Qinghai to Tibet trains where passengers can go to buy and have meals. Boxed meals, snacks and drinks are provided. Besides, train crew will also push trollies selling snacks, drinks, and fruit during the trip. In addition to the limitation on food types, the food price is higher than what you pay in a small restaurant or supermarket. You could bring some snacks from a supermarket, especially for a breakfast. Hot water is available on the train. You will need your own mug for making tea or coffee.
Toilets on Tibet trains are squatters. They are available at the end of each passenger coach. Toilet paper is not available. There are also sink basins at the end of each coach for general washing up.
In order to protect the ecological environment of Qinghai – Tibet Plateau, all sewage is collected and discharged centrally. Trains to Tibet are required to collect sewage and garbage at Golmud station. Sewage tanks and garbage bins are emptied before entering Tibet.
The Construction of Qinghai – Tibet Railway
This Qinghai – Tibet Railway is the first rail line that connects the Tibet to other provinces in China. Construction of the 815 kilometers (506 miles) section from Xining to Golmud was completed in 1984. The 1,142 kilometers (710 miles) section from Golmud to Lhasa was opened in 2006. The Xining to Lhasa train was first tested on the China Rail network on May 1, 2006.
This 1,956-kilometer-long railway is a great achievement and a modern wonder in both China’s and the world’s railway history. However, the construction work encountered a lot of challenges and difficulties, including chillness and oxygen shortage on the Tibetan Plateau, unstable permafrost and fragile ecology. The Golmud - Lhasa section of this Railway had to pass through Gobi deserts, marsh wetlands and snow-capped grasslands. This line also needed to include Tanggula Pass at 5,072 meters (16,640 feet) above sea level, which is the highest point on a railway in the world, and go through the world’s highest rail tunnel – the Fenghuoshan Tunnel at 1,338 meters (4,390 feet) above sea level.
To resolve these problems, bridges were built to replace winding roads; projects with advanced technologies have been built to overcome the difficulties of construction in plateau terrain; 33 dedicated wildlife migration passages have been established to protect wild animals; “zero sewage discharge” along the railway to protect the ecology. In addition, more than 100 clinics have been built for passenger and rail crew’s health.
Scenery along the Qinghai – Tibet Railway
The scenery along the Qinghai – Tibet Railway is stunning and of various types. After the train leaves Xining in Qinghai Province, the altitude gradually rises. About an hour after departing from Xining Railway Station, the train travel alongside the blue waters of the vast Qinghai Lake and the breathtaking range of landscapes around it - wetlands, grasslands, snow-capped mountains, and deserts. Then the train travel across large desert flatland. After Gulmud, the train climbs through desert into the majestic Kunlun Mountains and then Hoh Xil Nature Reserve, where you will encounter various wild animals. The train travel into Tibet over the Tanggula Pass. A few-minute stop will make at Tanggula Railway Station, which is the highest railway station in the world.
Other highlights along the rail line include the Tsonag Lake, one of the highest fresh water lakes in the world at 4,594 meter above sea level, and local feature like Mani stone, which are regarded sacred as the sacrifice to the Buddha.