China-Tibet railway not a runaway success
The Quinghai–Tibet railway linking China to Tibet has now been open for over a year. Crossing four mountain chains and five major rivers, the railway is a true feat of engineering.
The risk of earthquakes and the harsh weather conditions called for engineering innovations that have been adapted over time. Insulating techniques, for instance, were used to prevent temperature changes during seasonal freeze–thaw cycles from warping the tracks.
Environmental concerns shaped the construction of the railway. However, independent developments along the route, such as hotels and restaurants, do not always give environmental protection a high priority, and rubbish is accumulating.
And there is conflicting opinion as to whether the wildlife passages constructed into the railway have succeeded in preventing disruption to animal migration in the area.
The railway has been met with mixed reactions in Tibet. Although one of China's stated goals in building the railway was to promote economic development, disparities between the urban rich and the rural poor in Tibet are increasing. The project has also instigated a surge in Han Chinese immigrants, leaving Tibetans in danger of being marginalised.
With China planning to extend the route, the railway's impact will continue to need careful monitoring.