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To Ride This Train, You Need Extra Oxygen

Costly project in Tibet is now open
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 3, 2021 4:50 PM CDT

(Newser) – The first bullet train went live in Tibet on June 25, and its speed—about 100 miles per hour—is pretty much the least fascinating part about it. CNN reports on some of the more notable and unusual features of the line, which links the Tibetan capital Lhasa with Nyingchi, one of Tibet's "most popular tourist destinations," per CGTN. Among them: 75% of the 250-mile route is made up of bridges (121 of them) and tunnels (47 of those), and 90% of it sits roughly 10,000 feet, or almost two miles, above sea level. Because of that, passengers need extra oxygen, and what they are fed in the train is air with a 23.6% oxygen level versus the naturally occurring 21% level. The six-year project cost $5.6 billion to construct and includes the Zangmu Railway Bridge, a 0.3-mile bridge that is the highest of all arch bridges like it.

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CGTN notes another record: The rail's highest point is at an elevation of about 16,750 feet, the highest point traveled by any electrified railway on the planet. If you're thinking that building it must have been quite a feat, you wouldn't be far off. The Economist puts it like so: "Workers had to brave landslides, poisonous gas from broken rock, intense cold as well as an oxygen-starved atmosphere at more than 5,000 meters above sea level—roughly the altitude of Mount Everest’s base camps. " The Lhasa-Nyingchi line marks the second phase in a three-phase process due to wrap up in 2030 that will see Lhasa connected by rail with the Sichuan capital of Chengdu; the time to get between them will drop from 48 hours to 13. (Read more Tibet stories.)

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