October 19, 2005 One of the world’s greatest railway journeys is set to open in 2007 with the news this week that the Pan-Himalayan Railway has been completed, taking the title of the World’s highest railway from Peru’s Andes Railway. The first section of line from Xining to Golmud, began in 1958 and was finished in 1984. The second 1142 kilometre section, which completes the planned 1956 kilometre railway from Xining in Qinghai province, to the capital of Tibet, Lhasa was finished last week at a cost of US$3.0 billion. At its highest point the railway is 5,072m (16,640ft) above sea level and runs across the “roof of the world” with 960 kilometres of the journey above 4,000 metres. Carriages used on the journey will be sealed like passenger aircraft to protect passengers from altitude sickness and workers constructing the line had to breathe from special oxygen bottles.
And if it appeals to you to see the capital of Tibet and all that lies between, you’d best plan that journey soon. Though complete, the railway will not begin testing until July, 2006 and won’t open until 2007. As around 550 km of the tracks run on frozen earth, there are fears that with global warming, the foundations will only be solid enough to support the railway safely until around 2050. By our reckoning, that gives the railway line a relatively short lifespan of just 43 years.
If you take the journey, you’ll also get to see: the highest railway station in the world (5,068 meters above sea level) the world's most elevated tunnel (4,905 meters above sea level) the world's longest plateau tunnel built in frozen earth (1,686 meters long)