Traveling through the Tibetan mountains: Tibet’s first high-speed train

The first high-speed rail system began operations in Japan in 1964, which saw the Tokaido Shinkansen travel at speeds of 130 mph. Since then, advancements in high-speed train technology have seen several countries, such as Belgium, Denmark, China, France, Italy and many others, build and develop high-speed rail infrastructure. .

With China’s rail infrastructure notable for its speed, green credentials, and impressive design, the addition of Tibet‘s very first electric high-speed train not only highlights China’s remarkable engineering, but also helps the region. from Tibet.

The inclusion of the train – which entered service on June 25 – now allows passengers to travel from the capital Lhasa to the city of Nyingchi in three and a half hours. Before the train, the journey took more than five hours by car. The train also cuts the journey time from Shannan to Nyingchi from six to about two hours. Traveling at speeds of 160 km, the high-speed train, powered by both internal combustion and electric engines, is capable of traveling on both electrified and non-electrified railway lines.

With the development of the railway costing $ 5.6 billion, coupled with the construction of the route taking more than six years, many design features were included in the train as well as bold engineering to make the possible route.

World record construction

Nicknamed “the roof of the world” – because it sits five kilometers above sea level – the Tibetan Plateau is a vast, flat area surrounded by some of the highest mountains in the world. Building the railway line at this elevation and on a rock-dominated surface was a daring and stimulating experience for the team that worked to establish the line. Stretching for 435 km, the line provides provincial-level regions in mainland China with access to the new high-speed train transportation.

The Lhasa-Nyingchi Line sees 90% of the route lying at elevations above 3,000 meters above seal level as it passes through mountain tunnels, bridges and arcades. With 47 tunnels and 121 bridges representing 75% of the entire route, the line also includes a 525m long railway bridge, making it the largest and tallest arch bridge in the world. The tallest section of the railway line rises more than 5,100 m above sea level, a record height for any electrified railway in the world.

Credit: Xinhua / Purbu Zhaxi.

With the route passing through tunnels and bridges of impressive design, it will allow passengers to admire the features of the Tibetan landscape from above while enjoying their journey. On the way, passengers will be able to see the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon as well as Nanga Bawa Peak – the highest mountain in the Nyingchi region of Tibet with an altitude of 7,783m.

Although the train is slow compared to other high-speed trains that run in China – which average around 300 km / h – the train is capable of carrying 10 ml tons of freight per year according to the Xinhua report ( New China News Agency).

For Chinese leader Xi Jinping, the high-speed train acts as a social tool for political influence and for integrating regions into the mainstream. Speaking to the Global Times, Qian Feng, research director at the National Strategy Institute at Tshinghua University, said, “If a crisis scenario arises at the Sino-Indian border, the railway will offer great convenience to China for the delivery of strategic materials. ”

A range of design features

Manufactured by the state-owned China State Railway Group, “Fuxing” electric high-speed trains were independently developed by China and feature a number of impressive design features. Each high-speed train integrates the Internet, cloud computing, 5G and other new technologies that integrate nine different intelligent operating and monitoring systems.

The on-board facilities also give passengers a modern-era travel feel with smart vending machines and smart lighting in the washrooms. On board the train, the drivers also provide passenger services such as medical assistance, orientation and translation.

Designed for high altitudes

In addition to these impressive design features and technological services that trains offer to passengers, other design features have been included for the sake of safety. As the train travels at higher altitudes than normal passenger movements, the trains are fitted with an automated oxygen supply system – ensuring oxygen levels are maintained at 23.6% at all times, which is higher than the average of 21% found at the level of the normal atmosphere. .

Coupled with the inclusion of the oxygen system, the train windows were also given unique design features: UV resistant glass. This special glass layer has been designed to withstand the high UV levels of the region which are present at higher elevations due to the presence of less atmosphere for it to be absorbed.

The power of the electric

Like other high-speed trains currently in service, the Tibet Fuxing train is powered by both internal combustion and electric engines. The dual-horsepower motor inside the train sees it able to switch from electric power to an internal combustion engine in a high-altitude emergency.

Since 2013, the Chinese National Railway has significantly reduced its CO2 emissions from 35.5 to 5.44 thousand metric tons in 2019 – data provided by Statistica. This is mainly due to the fact that the country uses electrification systems which significantly reduce the consumption of coal for the railways.

With the railway line serving an area of ​​over 226,000 km² – equivalent to 18.4% of Tibet’s total land mass – more than 1.3 million people will directly benefit from this latest extension of the rail network. Chinese.