China to increase train services to Tibet

Trains will travel daily between Guangzhou, capital of south China`s Guangdong province, and Lhasa starting from July 09.

Updated: Jul 01, 2012, 15:29 PM IST

Beijing: China will increase passenger train services from major cities to Tibetan provincial capital Lhasa, cashing in on the tourism boom with rising numbers of Chinese tourists to the picturesque Himalayan region.

Trains will travel daily between Guangzhou, capital of south China`s Guangdong province, and Lhasa starting from July 09, said Wang Tao, a spokesman for the Qinghai-Tibet Railway Company.

Chengdu-Lhasa trains will soon follow the same schedule.

Seven major Chinese cities currently have Lhasa-bound trains. All are expected to operate on a daily basis in the future, Wang said.

Among them, Beijing, Shanghai and Xining already have daily trains to Lhasa, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway, spanning 1,956 km from Xining to Lhasa, has transported 52.76 million passengers since going into operation on July 01, 2006, Bao Chuxiong, the general manager of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway Company, said.

With heavy promotions by the Chinese government, Tibet is experiencing a major tourism surge. From January to March, the region received 230,000 visitors, up 23.7 percent from a year earlier.

According to government statistics, 8.7 million tourists from home and abroad visited Tibet in 2011, generating USD 1.5 billion in tourism revenues.

The vast majority of tourists however are locals as foreigners require special clearances to visit Tibet.

Bao said railway has become the "first choice" for most Tibet travellers even with the region having five airports already.

The number of Qinghai-Tibet Railway travellers has grown by about 10 percent annually, he said.

Last year, it reached 10.6 million, up 65.6 percent compared to the figures from 2006.

But the increase has strained railway operators, as there are not enough oxygenated trains to meet demand, Ma Xiaojun, another official with the Qinghai-Tibet Railway Company said.

Because of the low oxygen content on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, trains travelling on the railway have to use sealed and oxygenated train cars.

Currently, all Lhasa-bound passengers board oxygenated trains from the departure city, but this arrangement will become impossible when all services are offered on a daily basis, Ma said.

Starting this month, passengers on Guangzhou-Lhasa trains will need to switch from ordinary trains to oxygenated trains at the Xining railway station, just as they would transfer between flights in an airport, he said.

"The mass transfer, usually involving hundreds or even thousands of passengers, is really a scene to watch," the official said.

"The railway station operators have undergone many drills to be prepared."

Railway officials said that if the transfers work properly, efforts to increase Lhasa-bound train services will be expedited so that people can easily ride a train to Tibet from any Chinese city connected to the country`s railway network.

Tibet aims to attract 10 million tourists this year, with tourism revenues expected to reach CNY 12 billion (USD 1.89 billion), the local government said.