Saturday, March 04, 2006

China to encourage migration to Lhasa by offering cheap train

AFP, Wed Mar 1, 11:28 PM ET

Rail tickets from Beijing to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa will cost as little as 46 dollars, up to six times less than a flight, when trains begin running in July.

The government released provisional pricing for the controversial line on Wednesday, signaling a much cheaper way for ordinary Chinese to reach the once isolated region known as the "roof of the world".

While China has hailed the line as another step in developing and modernizing the region, critics say the the railway will lead to a flood of immigrant Han Chinese that will further erode Tibet's unique Buddhist culture. Opponents of the railway say it will also tighten China's political control over Tibet, which was formally annexed in 1951 after Chinese troops invaded a year earlier.

Tibetans continue to clamor for greater autonomy.

According to the prices released on Wednesday, a one-way "hard seat" berth, the lowest class of travel on China's railways, will cost 380 yuan (46 dollars), and a "hard bed" ticket will cost 776 yuan. A first-class berth in a "soft sleeper" cabin will cost 1,241 yuan, the report said.

Such prices compare with a one-way, non-stop airfare from Beijing to Lhasa of around 2,300 yuan.

Travel from Beijing to Lhasa is expected to take at least 48 hours depending on the train and connections in Xining, Qinghai province, a major transport hub along the route, reports said.

Trains are already running trial runs along the Qinghai-Tibet section of the railway that runs 1,965 kilometer (1,218 miles) from Xining to Lhasa across some of the world's most rugged terrain.

About 960 kilometers of the track heading through the majestic Kunlun Pass is 4,000 meters above sea-level, making the railway the highest in the world.