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China's Qinghai-Tibet rail gets closer to Nepal

SHIGATSE, China--The Qinghai-Tibet Railway has formally opened its Lhasa-Shigatse track to passengers. With the inauguration of the 253-kilometer track on Friday, the high-elevation railway has reached closer to Nepal. “We plan to extend the line up to Kerung in the long run,” said Yang Chu Lin, an official at the Shigatse Railway Service.

The second largest Tibetan city of Shigatse is about 540 kilometers from Kerung, the nearest Chinese town from Nepal, while the bordering Nepali district of Rasuwa is 35 kilometers away from there. Katmandu is 110 kilometers from the district.

Carrying 800 passengers and two dozen journalists, the first train that departed from Lhasa at 9 a.m. on Saturday arrived in Shigatse at noon, traveling at an average speed of 120 kilometers per hour.

“The train service saves time and money of passengers,” said Chhedung, an official at the Shigatse Foreign Affairs Department. “The service will prove a boon for the Shigatse prefecture in boosting tourism and economic development.”

The new train has cut travel time between the two cities by half. A bus takes six hours to travel the distance. The train fare, 45 yuan, is half that of a bus.

The track crosses valleys and mountains, over glacier-fed rivers on the plateau, at an altitude of over 3,000 meters. It climbs higher than 4,000 meters in some areas. China spent US$2.22 billion to construct the Himalayan railway as a key national project of the central government. The track is considered an engineering marvel. The railway line 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 extension of the railway further to Kerung and to the Nepali Capital could benefit Nepal hugely,” said Hari Prasad Basyal, Nepali Consular in Lhasa. “Nepali leadership should consider seriously about constructing railways in the country.”

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