Flag of the Tibetan Independence Movement

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Train on the Golmud - Lhasa railway
A train on the Golmud - Lhasa railway, about 20 km north of Yangbaijan
hauled by a pair of General Electric NJ2 5100hp Co-Co diesel electric locomotives

Tibet is administered as an autonomous region of China, a status which is recognised by most countries of the world. However, a small but vociferous group of activists continues to seek complete independence for the country, under the rule of the Dalai Lama who, in the aftermath of the Chinese military occupation in the 1950s, set up a Government of Tibet in Exile to look after the interests of his followers and other Tibetans who, for whatever reason, were excluded from their home country.

For many years there were no railways on the Tibetan plateau, but in 2006 an 1136km standard (1435mm) gauge line was opened from the town of Galmud to the Tibetan capital at Lhasa. The summit of the line is 15640 ft (4767 m) above sea level, making it the highest standard gauge main line in the world. Oxygen is provided for train passengers! The line is operated by China Railway. In addition to regular passenger and freight services, the line is used by luxury tourist cruise trains. Initially operated by diesel traction, work to electrify the line commenced in 2022.

A 253km extension westward from Lhasa to Tibet’s second city, Xigazê, opened in 2014. A further extension from Xigazê to Gyirong (540km) is expected to open in 2022. Under a Memorandum of Understanding signed with Nepal in 2018, the line would eventually be extended a further 35km to the Nepalese border at Rasuwa Gadhi and from there to the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu. There is no confirmed date for the completion of the international connection.

In 2021, an 435km line opened from Lhasa eastward to Nyingchi; unlike earlier railways in the region, it was electrified from the outset. At Nyingchi, it is planned eventually to meet a line currently under constuction from Chengdu in Sichuan province. Completion throughout to Chengdu (1629km from Lhasa) is expected by 2026.

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Photo image by Jan Reurink from Wikimedia Commons