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China Rail Company Plans Express to Tibet

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 2006/01/09; January 9, 2006.]

The Associated Press
Jan. 9, 2006

SHANGHAI, China - Banking on the appetite of foreign and newly wealthy Chinese tourists for adventure, with five-star amenities, a Shanghai-based company plans to set up luxury express railway lines to Tibet's Himalayan capital, Lhasa.

The trains, equipped with king-sized beds, butler service and oxygen canisters to combat effects of the high altitude, will run from major cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, Wei Yumei, director of the publicity department of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway Co. said Monday.

The luxury trains are to run along a recently completed high-altitude route between Xining, in western China's Qinghai province, and Lhasa.

Wei said that details of the plan could not yet be disclosed because the 50-50 joint venture between her company and Shanghai-based private equity fund TZGPartners, dubbed RailPartners, has not yet been formally approved by the government.

"Yes, we are cooperating with RailPartners on this project," Wei said. "The project is due to be finished in 2007."

The trains will have to travel through Xining, the terminus of the 1,220-mile high-altitude line that is Lhasa's only rail link. Completed in October, the 27 billion yuan ($3.3 billion) line is due to begin test runs in July.

TZG Partners is a private fund set up by foreign investors focused on starting new businesses in the leisure, travel and real estate industries. RailPartners' aim, according to the company's Web site, is to create the "most magnificent train" in the world, offering passengers luxury on a par with that found in the best hotels, along with stunning scenery. Three trains are to accommodate 88 passengers each _ 88 being a lucky number symbolizing wealth, according to Chinese tradition.

The trains, to be built by BSP, a joint venture between China and Canada's Bombardier, are to be designed by SURV, a Shanghai design firm involved in a variety of projects including boutique hotels and yachts, it says.

The Hong Kong newspaper The Standard reported Monday that RailPartners plans to use a $130 million loan to help finance the project. Wei refused comment on that report.

The route to Lhasa is one of the world's highest railways, crossing mountain passes up to 16,500 feet high, with about 80 percent of the line above 13,000 feet.

Earlier reports said the trains would be sealed like aircraft to help protect passengers from the effects of the high altitude. The oxygen canisters would be used to help passengers breathe more easily.

Travelers to Tibet now must travel by air or over mountain highways often blocked by landslides or snow.

The railway is intended to promote trade, tourism and investment in the region, helping to ease poverty in one of China's poorest regions.

It has provoked criticism, however, from activists who contend that ethnic Chinese migrants are more likely to benefit than local Tibetans.

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