China is preparing to run test trains on the highest railway line in the world, the Lanzhou-Urumqi high-speed line.
The line is due to open on 30 November after a 120-day period of trials. Long stretches of the 1,776km route are so exposed that more than 450km of wind-break wall has been built to protect it.
It will be the first high-speed railway in north-west China, and connects Lanzhou, the capital city of Gansu province, with Urumqi, the capital of the adjacent Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.
Travel time between the two capitals will be reduced from 20 hours to just eight, with trains running at 200-250km/h. There will be 13 stations along the route. Freight traffic will continue to use the existing line.
The high-speed line takes a more southerly route, passing through Qinghai province. This requires it to cross the Qilian mountain range. The track in the section near the Qilianshan No 2 Tunnel is 3,607m above sea level, making it the highest rail track in the world.
Xinjiang’s economy is expected to see vibrant growth with the opening of the line.
Xinjiang municipal spokeswoman Qian Ping said tourism is expected to see a huge growth as tourists would opt for the high-speed train service to view the countryside rather than taking a flight to Urumqi as they do now.
It will also increase China’s cargo capacity to Central Asia and Europe. Construction of the line started in November 2009 with a budget of US$24bn.
Qian noted that a challenge in the project was laying the tracks in the extremely windy conditions that are normal in Xinjiang.
“An even bigger challenge is taking a high-speed train to the province, as the line passes through four major wind areas,” Qian added. To address the problem, a wind break was constructed along with the track. This provides a 463km-long protective wall, which is about 65 per cent of the total length of the Xinjiang section.
China is pressing ahead with an ambitious programme of railway building. As well as the north-western line, the 927km Hangzhou-Changsha section of the Shanghai-Kunming line will open in October. By the end of 2014, China will have 23,250km of high-speed railway.