Absurdity, Allegory and China

The Kingdom from another angle.

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Wagon Trains

August 25th, 2008 · No Comments

I’ve been trying my best to follow a particular story since its initial announcement on March 10, 2008. And now finally some word about the world’s most expensive train: the proposed luxury line from Beijing to Lhasa, single ticket price – a mere 40,000 RMB (today, $5,849 USD; 4,000 Euros). No, there is not an extra zero. It’s forty thousand yuan per ticket. In the land of the communists only a very good communist could afford it. Zhang Yimou could afford it. But the targeted market is hardly just the wealthy Mainland Chinese.

According to a Xinhua article on March 10, 2008, one of the major investors in the LuxRail-2-Lhasa (my name for it, nothing official) is Hong Kong’s Wing On Travel (Holdings) Limited, in to the tune of $52.9 million USD. Also, according to Zhu Mingrui, general manager of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway Corporation (QTRC):

Such a train can only seat 96 passengers. The fare would be about 20 times the normal price and also much more than an airline ticket.

But since the opening salvo it’s been pretty quiet. The plan seemed to have been to have the first train up and running at the end of the XXIX Olympic Games, which, if my math is right, was yesterday. The AFP reported a few days ago that

State-run Xinhua news agency reported in early March, just days before deadly riots broke out in Tibet, that the train would go into service on September 1. But an official at the Qinghai Tibet Railway Company, who also asked to remain anonymous, told AFP Thursday there was no timetable yet for the train’s maiden voyage.

It sounds as if there might be some complications and delays.

There has, of course, been much environmental opposition to the opening of the intial train line to Lhasa. Unlike the 19th C. trains that crossed the great American West, I believe that there will probably not be any picking off of the wildlife from the open windows of the train. There’s just too much pressure if you open them up. You might even lose your breath. For real. So, for now it appears that the wildlife – the deer and the antelope roaming – near the train will be safe.

But no matter the delay, China’s sticking with it. The original plan was to have trains leave Beijing three times a week for the five-day journey into and through the Tibetan cultural region (Gansu, Qinghai and Xizang). The train will carry 12 passenger cars: 96 passengers, 4 suites per car. The number of passengers is obviously based on double occupancy in the expensive compartments, which are “ten-square meter suites featuring a double bed, living room and bathroom facilities” all in 10 sq, mind you – to what has historically been the most difficult capital in the world to actually get to. But now, as a provincial capital rather than a national one, it has become much easier to find transportation to carry people there. Despite the transportation, permission to actually travel there may, for some, still be a bit of a problem. But don’t worry, the plan is to make it much easier in the unfolding golden future. The China Daily announced last week that there are six new lines coming to the Tibetan cultural region in the near future, a veritable railed net across the world’s highest and most fragile plateau. Westward Ho!

Tags: Tibet

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