BEIJING Aug 15 China on Friday officially
opened a $2-billion extension of its controversial railway into
Tibet, state media reported, linking the Tibetan capital of
Lhasa with a key Buddhist site.
Tibet is a highly sensitive region, not just because of
continued local opposition to Chinese control, but because of
the region's strategic position next to neighbours India, Nepal
In 2006, China opened the railway to Lhasa, which passes
spectacular icy peaks on the Tibetan highlands, reaching
altitudes as high as 5,000 m (16,400 ft) above sea level, as
part of government development efforts.
Critics of the railway, including exiled Tibetans and rights
groups, say it has spurred an influx of long-term migrants who
threaten Tibetans' cultural integrity, which rests on Buddhist
beliefs and a traditional herding lifestyle.
The new 13.28 billion yuan ($2.2 billion) extension goes to
Shigatse, the traditional seat of Tibetan Buddhism's
second-highest figure, the Panchen Lama, and reduces travel time
from Lhasa to around two hours from four hours by road now, the
official Xinhua news agency said.
At a cost of 50,000 yuan per metre (ft), the railway lines
is the most expensive ever built in China, because of the harsh
terrain it traverses, making it necessary to build numerous
bridges and tunnels, the agency said.
The first passenger train is scheduled to leave Lhasa on
Saturday morning, it added.
China plans further extensions of the railway line, to the
borders of India, Nepal and Bhutan, by 2020.
China had long mooted the plan, but its efforts were slowed
by the difficulty and expense of building in such a rugged and
(1 US dollar=6.1470 Chinese yuan)
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)