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BEIJING: It could quite justifiably be called the skytrain.
The just completed railway, which connects Tibet with the rest of China, is the most elevated track in the world.
About 80 per cent of the 1956km line linking Lhasa to the city of Xining in the western province of Qinghai lies above 4000m, says the Government.
The train is to have special cars that are sealed like aircraft to protect the passengers from altitude sickness.
Crews building the line worked at such high altitudes that they breathed bottled oxygen.
The railway is part of efforts to develop the poor west and bind the restive region more closely to China's interior.
The Government says it will start carrying passengers next year and should spur trade and investment, easing poverty in Tibet.
Activists complain the line will bring a flood of ethnic Chinese migrants to the isolated Himalayan region, diluting its unique Buddhist culture.
Environmentalists say it will damage Tibet's fragile ecology and lead to the exploitation of its resources.
The completion of construction was marked with a ceremony yesterday in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
"Tibet's regional capital basked in glory," Xinhua said.
Critics say most of the economic benefits of Tibet's economic development will go to migrants from China's east.
But activists and foreign diplomats also say the communist Beijing Government is the only entity willing to invest the billions of dollars needed to ease poverty in the region.
Chinese officials insist that they are making efforts to employ Tibetans on the railway and are taking precautions to protect the region's fragile ecology.
Until now, goods going to and from Tibet have been trucked over mountain highways that are often blocked by landslides or snow, making trade prohibitively expensive.
Communist troops occupied Tibet in 1950 and Beijing says the region has been Chinese territory for centuries. But many Tibetans say they were independent for much of that time.
Beijing has planned the railway since the 1950s. But construction was blocked by the high cost and technical obstacles.
The track crosses hundreds of kilometres of permafrost and sits on special rollers and pontoons that are designed to keep it in place as the ground melts and refreezes.
Its highest station will be in Nagqu, a town at an altitude of 4500m in the rolling grasslands of the Tibetan plateau.
According to Xinhua, the highest point on the line is 5072m, which the Government says is a world record.
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