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Tibet Train Facilities

Last updated: April,27 2017

If you are looking to travel to Tibet by train, it is one of the most amazing journeys you will ever take. The train can take anything from 22 hours to almost 3 days, depending on your departure station, but it is more than worth it to see the spectacular, breathtaking sights along the route.

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway is a record-breaking feat of engineering. The world’s highest railway, 960 kilometers of this track runs at an elevation above 4,000 meters. The route goes through the Tanggula Pass, the highest railway pass in the world at 5,072 meters and has the highest railway station, Tanggula Station.

The train through Tanggula MountainThe train through Tanggula Mountain

It is the world’s longest plateau railroad, running 1,142 kilometers from Golmud to Lhasa across both the Kunlun and Tanggula mountain ranges. The Fenghuoshan Tunnel, at 4,905 meters above sea level, is the world’s highest railway tunnel, and drills its way through 1,338 meters of frozen ground. It also has the world’s longest plateau rail bridge, the Qingshui River Bridge, which has a span of 11.7 kilometers and is 4,500 meters above sea level.

History of Tibet Trains

The train to Tibet runs from seven major cities in China, the most famous and most popular being the route from Xining to Lhasa. The Chinese leader, Mao Zedong, appointed a team to inspect the expediency of the construction of the railway in October 1955. A year later, in 1956, the immediate planning of the project was officially launched by the Ministry of Railways. Then, a year after that, a team of 13 people were sent to start the survey.

Qinghai-Tibet RailwayQinghai-Tibet Railway

In September 1958, the launching of the Qinghai-Tibet railway, Guan Jiao Tunnel and the Xining-Golmud construction was started secretly. However, the project kept getting postponed due to economic problems. The development of Xining-Golmud section was reestablished and concurrently, the research, design works and surveys for the Golmud-Lhasa section was restarted as well in 1974.

How the Qinghai-Tibet Railway was built upHow the Qinghai-Tibet Railway was built up

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway’s first phase was built from Xining-Golmud in September 1979, and was put to use in 1984. But due to China’s technology at that time, the construction of the Golmud to Lhasa section did not push through.

Qinghai-Tibet RailwayQinghai-Tibet Railway

At Golmud, in Qinghai Province, the continued development of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway was initiated on June 29, 2001, and the route from Xining to Lhasa was officially opened in full on July 1, 2006. In September 2010, the building of the Lhasa-Shigatse spur, the first extension of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway was started and finished in 2014.

Facilities on Tibet Trains

Different facilities are offered on the trains for travel; soft sleeper berths, hard sleeper berths, hard seats, and standing room. Here we'll introduce you the major differences among soft sleeper, hard sleeper and hard seat.

The hard sleeper cars have half open sections. Each section has 6 beds; 2 upper berths, 2 middle ones and 2 lower ones. All the sleeper sections are only on one side, while on the other side there is a window and 2 pull down seats with a tiny table. This is an excellent place for watching the scenery as you travel, or to read or listen to music.

Inside of the trainInside of the train

The beds are about 60 centimeters wide and 180 centimeters long. There is at least 75 centimeters vertical spaces between the lower and the middle bunks, while there is 70 centimeters space between middle and the upper bed, and the spaces between upper bunk and the roof would only leave 60 centimeters of space. It should be noted that the hard sleeper berths do not have hard beds. They are just as comfortable as the soft sleepers.

The soft sleeper has the same bed dimensions, but there are only four berths to each cabin, and the room has a lockable door. This is an advantage for western travelers, who prefer a little more privacy on the train.

Soft sleeper on the trainSoft sleeper on the train

While hard seats are the cheapest option, it is not advised for traveling as the train takes almost 22 hours to get to Lhasa on its shortest journey, and the hard seats can become very uncomfortable after the first several hours.

It is also a good thing to know that the train is very safe for foreign passengers. With the numbers of foreign travelers going to Tibet every year, the Chinese government has supplied security and police on the trains, for passenger safety, and no one is able to get on the train without a ticket. Boarding is strictly controlled at all stations. However, it is still advisable to keep valuable personal items such as jewelry, phones and cameras on you while traveling.

Altitude Sickness when Taking Tibet Train

You may also feel a little altitude sickness on the train, because it travels in higher elevations. The staff are well trained in treating altitude sickness, and there is piped oxygen available on all the trains, as well as qualified medical staff. There are specific symptoms that tell you that you are experiencing altitude sickness.

Symptoms and Signs of Altitude Sickness

- Fatigue
- Uneasiness in breathing at rest
- Fast and shallow breathing
- Rattling breathing
- Chest tightness
- Change of color on either lips or fingernails
- Feeling dizzy

Altitude sickness can affect anyone, and to resolve it, you can take drugs for the symptoms, and use the onboard oxygen. If symptoms persist, and the sickness gets worse, descend immediately and spend a day or two at a lower elevation. Pregnant women, or people with high fever, should avoid high altitude trips.

Tips to Prevent Altitude Sickness

•Do not drink or smoke when ascending
•Avoid heavy lifting and strenuous activity
•Do not take a shower for the first two days to avoid having colds
•Proper rest and oxygen in your body can help relieve altitude sickness

To help you feel more comfortable, you can consult the medical services for further help with your altitude sickness. When it comes to service on the trains, they will always give you the best. The staff are all fully trained in customer service, and are very friendly and helpful. They are more than happy to point out the sights on the route as well, so you will not miss any of the spectacular and popular sights, unless you are sleeping!

Other Facilities on Tibet Train

When you need to use the rest rooms, there are two types of toilets. The squat type toilet and the western type toilet. And of course, when you see the washroom, it is sanitized and clean. Every washroom has its own sink area. Some useful things to remember are:

•Always bring toilet papers
•Bring your own trash bags
•The wash rooms are blocked when the train stops
•The soft sleeper washroom is cleaner than the hard sleeper washroom, as there are fewer passengers in the soft sleeper cars
•The toilets on board are shared, there are no private washrooms in soft sleeper rooms

Food and Drink Available on Tibet Train

When it comes to servicing in dining, for breakfast there are pickles, eggs bread and milk for the balanced nutrients. Among all dishes on the train there are 55 cold dishes, 8 Tibetan dishes, 32 ordinary dishes and 8 soups. There are food carts on each car, everything on the cart is Chinese food, such as fried pork and vegetables. You can order food on the cart, the menu has Chinese dishes and has an English translation on the board. There are other options, like noodles. If you fancy noodles there are a few options you can choose from. The cart usually comes by and gives you choices on what to have, such as packed snacks, instant noodles, potato chips, and fruits. Each train is equipped with a dining car or restaurant, where passengers can buy tea, soft drinks or beer. But please be reminded, don’t drink alcohol as much as possible while on board. If you don’t want Chinese food, you can always buy snacks before departure, and take them with you on board.

Dining car on the trainDining car on the train

For those who like to drink tea or coffee, they have boiling water on the trains, which can also be used for cup noodles and other snacks. However, please take care when handling hot water, as the train has a tendency to move and shake.

The train makes several stops, so be prepared on what to buy. They stop at major cities along the way, and passengers usually get out for just a few minutes. They get to have a quick walk and and buy snacks from the vendors on the train platform. It is a great experience to see what China has to offer. But do prepare enough money before getting off the train.

Overall, for a railway that runs through such a remote and harsh region of the world, the train is very well equipped and has excellent facilities. It is clean and safe, and very comfortable. The air-conditioning keeps the train at a constantly comfortable temperature all year round, so your trip can be as pleasant as possible. Try it, when you take your trip to Lhasa. You will never forget this amazing experience.

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