Qinghai-Tibet railway, also known as the Tibet train is a high elevation railway connecting the provinces of Xining in Qinghai province to Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet Autonomous Region. Known as the ‘sky train to the roof of the world’, the railway itself acquires an extra attention in Tibet tourism. It is also world’s highest railway, having the maximum elevation of 5,068m, with a length of 1,956 km, which makes Tibet tour develop rapidly. With mountains as high as 5,000m, 12km valleys to bridge and hundreds of kilometers of ice sheets and snow, it was a unanimous decision that no railway was possible to be constructed in Tibet. However China showed that impossible can be made possible, by constructing the Tibet train or the Qinghai-Tibet railway. The Chinese leaders initiated the construction. The first 815km distance, between Xining and Golmud was completed in 1984.
The next 1,142km between Golmud and Lhasa was inaugurated on July, 2006. Passenger train runs from Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Xining and Lanzhou. This railway stands as a masterpiece of the engineers. The trains are constructed specially to travel in higher elevations. The trains maintain a safe speed of 120 km/hour, but on permafrost areas, it travels at a speed of 100 km/hour. The engineers while constructing the railway track faced difficulties with the regions of permafrost. The tough permafrost areas could be mended by building an embankment of large rocks. But the areas having fragile permafrost were menacing for construction.
Nevertheless, the problem was managed by constructing elevated tracks along that entire region with pile-driven foundations that were sunk deep into the ground. Some of the portions of the track were also made to be artificially cooled with ammonia. The Qingzang Railway station or the Qinghai-Tibet station involved around 20,000 workers and 6,000 pieces of industrial equipments. Thus, with all these calculations and hard works, the foundation of world’s greatest railway station came into being. There are total 44 stations with the track crossing highest points like Tanggula Pass 5,231m. It is planned that in future, the railway will be extended to Zhangmu via Shigatse in the west and Dali via Nyingchi in the east.
Facilities on the Tibet train
- The Qinghai-Tibet train is a mesmerizing experience for the tourists in Tibet tourism. The journey involves high elevation points, the highest being Tanggula Pass, and also some longest tunnels like New Guanjiao Tunnel connecting Xining with Golmud. The railway has some remarkable facilities as the comfort of the tourists is ensured thoroughly. As the railway runs at a high elevation, altitude sickness and lack of oxygen are common problems that the tourists generally face.
But the railway involves sufficient means to combat such issues. All the facilities of oxygen supply, supercharging system, altitude display, adequate food and proper maintenance are ensured to the visitors. The Tibet train is divided into 3 kinds of coaches- The hard sleepers, the second class soft-berth sleeper and first class soft-berth sleeper. In the following portion of the article, the facilities in each of these coaches are discussed in detail.
Facilities in soft-berth sleepers
The first class soft-berth sleeper has four bunks in total with two divisions in the compartment. The beds are 60cm wide and about 180cm long. The vertical distance between two berths is almost about 75cm. Absolute privacy is maintained as there are lockable doors in the compartment. This also ensures additional security. The berths are spacious provided with high quality warm quilts and blankets.
The compartment contains television and other luxurious facilities. The glass window in a train is hard, facilitated with a shield against the ultra-violet rays. There is a narrow corridor just outside the compartments of the first class soft-berth sleepers. The broadcast and light switch enables the tourists to control the technical facilities of the coach. There are two built-in oxygen supplies in a train. One remains within the cabin for the passengers use during emergencies and the other supply aims at increasing the oxygen level in a train by temperature and air controlling systems.
The air conditioning system within a train keeps the temperature controlled within 24 to 26 degree centigrade in summer and 18 to 20 degree centigrade during winters. This optimal temperature keeps the passenger within their comfort zone. In addition to these facilities, the tourists are provided with all the information regarding the altitude. Further the soft sleeper berths are provided with battery recharge facility also. The hangers are there to hang clothes and other stuffs.
The staff of Tibet train, keeping the security and the comfort of the many foreign tourists in Tibet, has ensured a packed security system in a train. The train contains a complete force of police and security guards. The strict rules and regulations are enforced right from the boarding time. Nobody is allowed to board the train without tickets. An entire group of nurses and doctors are also kept in a train for combating with the sickness of any passenger. Proper medication facilities are also adequate in a train.
The train provides the passengers a health registration card when the passengers buy tickets for the train between Golmud and Lhasa. Passengers are required to go through the dictums of the health notice and sign the agreement before boarding the train. Passengers are pre-notified not to avail this train if they have severe breathing problems or heart diseases. What make the Tibet train journey special is occasional folk performances and authentic Tibetan song and dance performances during the traditional festivals that are performed to prevent the passengers from being bored with their journey. The cost of the soft sleeper coaches is higher than that of the hard-berth sleepers. However the facilities provided in the soft sleeper coaches, suffice the cost fully.
Facilities in hard sleepers
The hard sleepers have six berths in total, three on each side, having a half open section in the middle. The dimensions of the berths are the same as that of the soft-berth sleepers. The width of each bed is 60 cm, the length being 180cm. The vertical distance between lower and middle berth is 75cm and the 70 cm between middle and upper bunks. The space is about 60cm between the roof and the upper section.
The lavish facilities are lacking in hard-berth sleepers. The compartments have no lockable doors. There is no television or altitude display facility. Even there is so battery recharge facility. The coaches are provided with basic quilts and blankets. However, the hard-berth sleeper beds are not hard as the name suggests. They are as comfortable as the soft-berth sleepers. The security and privacy are lacking in hard-berth sleepers and it is better to keep things carefully, as they often get crowded.
Other than these drawbacks, the hard-berth sleepers are also provided with two built-in oxygen facilities, one controlled by the passenger and the other in the air-conditioning facilities. The corridor, outside the cabin is packed with foldable benches to accommodate the passengers. There is an entire team of doctors present for the passengers and proper medication is provided to the sick passengers. The window glasses have ultra-violet shields in hard sleeper coaches also. There are about 600 hard sleeper berths in Tibet train and so reservation is very easy. Moreover these sleepers are less expensive compared to the soft-berth sleepers.
The Dining Car
The Qinghai-Tibet train is also known for its remarkable food facilities and a well-packed dining cart. A cook-house is present just beside the soft-berth sleeper. Three meals are provided to the tourists on the train. A lavish dining room is present where the customers can enjoy their meals while witnessing the rich beauty of scenic charm of Tibet.
The breakfast is nutritious containing eggs, pickles, bread and milk, costing 25 CNY. The noodles are also there varying from Snow noodles, Beef noodles, steak noodles and so on. There are 8 Tibetan meals, 55 cold dishes, 32 ordinary dishes and 8 soup meals. The stewed yak with Crassulaceae at 25CNY, turnip and carrot yak at 28CNY and Ginseng salad at 18CNY are available in a train. Besides, there is food carried by a handling cart. All the food on the cart is Chinese style such as fried pork and vegetables are usually sold at 20 CNY.
As the dining area remains busy at meals time, the Train attendants always push the meal cart going through the train. A lunch or supper package includes three dishes in Chinese style that cost about 20 CNY. The cart is packed with many types of beverages, drinks. In times other than the meal time, a customer has to buy a beer or any drink to sit in the dining area. Boiled water and mineral water supply is also plenty in a train. Food on the train, however, is expensive when compared to the city prices.
The bathrooms in Qinghai-Tibet train are extremely clean and hygienic. There are usually two types of toilets- the squat type and the western type. Every washroom has its own sink area. The sink area contains three sinks with push type water faucets. The well designed bathroom meets the utmost needs of the customers. Nevertheless, the toilette accessories are not that much hygienic and therefore it is better to-
- Keep adequate tissues with you
- Keep your own trash bags
- Have your own towel and other accessories
The soft-sleeper washrooms are relatively cleaner than the hard sleeper bathrooms because of the former’s less accommodation.
Thus the Qinghai-Tibet railway is a wonder which should definitely be experienced by the tourists. The trains are punctual, having a great frequency. A detailed survey provides with the costs and timings of the trains.