0413_B48.jpgIts called the miracle railway, and it takes a miracle to get a ticket.

Chinese
travel companies are hoping for big business from the newly opened
2,000km Qinghai-Tibet railway, which critics fear will change Tibet for the worse.

The
Tibetan tourist board expects the train to bring in an extra 4,000
tourists a day and new hotels are being built to cope with the expected
hordes.

But according to the China Daily, would-be travellers will have to be persistent as the biggest problem is getting a ticket.

Another
challenge is the shear distances involved. The world's highest train
journey takes 48 hours from Beijing to Lhasa, so agents are
recommending time-challenged tourists first fly to Xining and board the
train there for a shorter 26-hour journey. To make the journey more
bearable, a western firm plans to run luxury carriages to cater for
well-heeled tourists.

The railway is the latest in China's
growing catalogue of world-beating engineering feats. Almost 1,000km of
the railway is at an altitude of 4,000m above sea level and more than
550km crosses permafrost.

A couple of western companies have benefited from the four-year project and both have been pilloried by human rights activists for their involvement.

Bombardier lead the consortium that supplied the pressurised rail carriages. Fellow Canadian Nortel has supplied a digital cellular network
for the line. It uses GSM-R, a railway-customised variant of the
familiar GSM system, and puts China ahead of many railways in the west,
which still rely on analogue communications.

Nortel recently won a follow-on contract from China's ministry of railways to deploy the GSM-R system in 20 of China's 31 provinces.

Apart
from benefiting china's fledgling tourist industry, the Qinghai-Tibet
railway is meant to spur economic development of the remote Tibet
autonomous region.

Is that the sound of wild antelopes
thundering across the tundra or the stampede of adventurous western
companies rushing down to the station to queue for their ticket?

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