China-Tibet railway showing signs of strains
Not surprisingly, the high-altitude Tibet railroad is already showing signs of strain as sections of the permafrost on which it was built melt and soften and give way under the weight of construction. You can access an in-depth article on the Tibetan Railroad and the environmental and engineering difficulties involved in building on permafrost that was published on Ultima Thule at this link.
This is another typical communist political boondoggle, where megalomania in the form of building unrealistic projects strictly for propaganda purposes clashes with reality. There were many such instances in the annals of Soviet history. Grandiose projects of Stalin that led to environmental catastrophes. This is where political correctness meets the road of reality. You can't make science or nature conform to your political ambitions, but that never stopped a communist tyrant from trying. As usual, it is nature and the people who suffer the consequences, while the apparatchiks move on to even more lunatic projects, undaunted by failure or reality.
Asia Times Online :: China News - Tibet railroad shows signs of strain
China's new railway to the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, is a remarkable engineering achievement. Starting from Golmud in western Qinghai province, the 1,100-kilometer line climbs to a maximum height of more than 5,000 meters, making it the highest railway in the world. Over most of its length, it is above 4,000 meters.
Workers who built the line had to use oxygen-breathing equipment, and the carriages of the train are sealed and pressurized like an airliner. The project took five years and cost more than US$4 billion.
At the opening on July 1, Chinese President Hu Jintao described the rail link as a "miracle", and spoke of the fulfillment of a dream. "After the struggle of the railway construction workers and other relevant parties, we have finally fulfilled the faith of several
generations of Chinese people, especially the leaders of each minority group," Hu said.
But that dream has collided with reality in the harsh environment of some of the world's most daunting mountain ranges. Barely a month after the line opened, it is already showing signs of strain.
Railway spokesman Wang Yongping told the media in Beijing that the rail bed had become unstable along some sections of the line as frozen ground thawed and subsided. Wang added that concrete structures, including bridges, are cracking.
Experts say the problem is being worsened by global warming. The permafrost has already been thinned and is proving unable in some places to bear the massive weight of the train, with its three locomotives and string of carriages. Higher temperatures are expected in the coming years, and the problems seem likely to worsen.
In addition to physical problems, the railway to Lhasa continues to draw opposition from Tibetan activists. The international Free Tibet Campaign says the railway is not intended to benefit the Tibetan people.
"This project is politically motivated, as was declared by Chinese officials and the leadership on several occasions, and the motivation is to consolidate China's control over Tibet," said Yael Weisz-Rind, the London spokeswoman for the campaign. "With the railway in full operation, China would be able to mobilize military personnel and arms [and send them] into Tibet, further militarizing the whole region."
Another group, Students for a Free Tibet, says the railway will accelerate the colonization of the area. They fear easier access to the remote plateau will allow more Han Chinese settlers to be brought in.
They also worry about further exploitation of the region's natural resources, with most economic benefits bypassing the Tibetan population. The students note that the railway's $4.2 billion price tag is almost triple the amount Beijing spent in Tibet on health care and education between 1952 and 2000.
Weisz-Rind recalled that Beijing some years ago formulated a development plan for western regions, which included Tibet and was supposed to bring investment to the region. But, she said, the money was characteristically spent in ways that did not benefit local people. And she fears that the new railway has the potential to do much more serious damage to Tibet and its culture.
"Altogether, of course, we fear that the consequences [of the railway] would be devastating for Tibet and Tibetans," Weisz-Rind said.
Beijing disregards such views. Officials are already planning to extend the line some 270km past Lhasa to Tibet's second city, Xigaze, close to the borders of India, Nepal and Bhutan.