What Makes Qinghai-Tibet Train Special: 7 Highlights to Expect

Last updated: March,27 2024

The Qinghai-Tibet train is a favorite route for tourists heading for a high-altitude vacation in Tibet. It is a great opportunity to see the changing landscapes on the route to the plateau and helps in acclimatizing to the high elevation. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway, running from Xining, in Qinghai Province, direct to Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, is an engineering marvel and unique experience. Here are seven highlights to expect and what makes the train special.

1. Qinghai-Tibet Train Runs on the World's Highest Railway.

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway opened on July 1, 2006, and covers 1,956 kilometers, going through breathtaking scenery of grasslands, mountains, and alpine lakes. 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. With 960 kilometers of track running at elevations of over 4,000 meters, it is the highest railway in the world.

the train passes through tanggula mountainThe Tibet train passes through Tanggula Mountains.

2. The Qinghai-Tibet Train is the Longest Train Route on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

The railway has several other world records for its length. 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, passing through 1,338 meters of frozen ground. It also has the world's longest plateau rail bridge, the Qingshui River Bridge, which spans 11.7 kilometers and is 4,500 meters above sea level.

Qinghai-Tibet RailwayScenery of Qinghai-Tibet Railway cross Qingshui River Bridge

3. Qinghai-Tibet Train is the World's Fastest Train on Permafrost.

550 kilometers of this amazing line run on permafrost ground—ground that remains frozen all year round—and it is the longest track on frozen earth ever built. It is also the world's fastest train running on permafrost, topping 100 kilometers per hour for most of this section of the trip. On a standard track, it can travel at 120 kph.

The track from Xining to Golmud is the part that climbs up to the plateau and covers 815km, around one-third of the route, reaching the start of the plateau at Kunlun Mountain Pass. The train travels through the Kunlun Mountain Tunnel, which runs for 1,686 meters through the permafrost and is the world's longest plateau tunnel running through permafrost ground.

4. Qinghai-Tibet Train offers a Comfortable Onboard Experience.

The train itself is as modern as the railway, ensuring a comfortable onboard experience. Along with sleeper cabins and clean washing facilities, the trains all boast an excellent dining car that serves freshly cooked food.

Dining Car on the TrainDining Car on the Tibet train

For those that do not wish to use the dining car, as it can get quite busy at mealtimes, the staff will come round to the cabins with a selection of boxed meals, which you can purchase for as little as 18 Yuan. The boxed meals usually consist of Chinese food and are of the same quality as that served in the dining car. Boiling water and drinking water are available from the staff, so if you are bringing instant noodles or packaged food that needs boiling water, it is always available. Packaged foods can be an advantage if you are not a fan of Chinese food and rice, and they can be a nice snack during your trip.

For passenger comfort and safety, the trains have a distributed oxygen system to help travelers adapt to the high altitude. Oxygen levels can be adjusted to help anyone with symptoms of high-altitude sickness, and individual oxygen masks are available for treating more severe symptoms.

5. Passengers Can Appreciate Incomparable Scenery by Taking the Qinghai-Tibet train.

Many wondrous sights will greet you through the train window on the route to Lhasa. The Qinghai-Tibet train travels between lofty, snow-capped mountains, through lush green plains, and alongside glistening lakes. You will pass the heady heights of the Kunlun Mountains, Tanggula Mountains, and Qinghai Lake, China's largest inland saltwater lake. The line runs along its northern bank and on through the prairie lands. Qarhan Salt Lake, which you will pass over, is famed for its road, which is built of salt across the briny lake. You will also pass through China's largest uninhabited area, Hoh Xil, with its stunning stone forests and gorges. With no people, the wildlife here flourishes, and the lucky traveler can see all kinds of wild animals grazing alongside the tracks.

Tibet Train though Qinghai LakeTibet Train though Qinghai Lake

6. Cultural Diversity Enriches the Qinghai-Tibet Train Journey Experience.

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway passes through regions where people from many different ethnic groups live. In addition to the Tibetans and Han Chinese, the area is also home to Hui, Tu, Salar, and other ethnic groups that you might encounter on the train. In addition, tourists from all over the world travel to Tibet every year. The train can be a truly diverse, multilingual experience. Some train compartments will have cultural information available to give insights into the history and customs of the Tibetan Plateau.

7. Environmental Conservation is Prioritized throughout the Journey.

Environmental conservation was a top priority during the construction of the Qinghai-Tibet railway, and minimizing the environmental impact on local ecosystems remains a core principle of the train's operation. Parts of the railway were constructed on raised tracks that minimize heat transfer to preserve the permafrost, and continuous environmental monitoring takes place to stay ahead of potential issues.

Qinghai-Tibet RailwayA beautiful rainbow is shown above the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.

The Qinghai-Tibet region is the source of several major rivers in Asia, and the railway pays careful attention to water resource management to avoid pollution. Strict waste management procedures are also in place. Every possible effort is made to reduce waste, recycle whenever possible, and properly dispose of anything remaining to minimize environmental damage.


The train trip from Xining to Lhasa is an amazing experience of new sights, sounds, people and cultures. The train is used by travelers from Tibet and China, as well as tourists, so you will have a chance to meet interesting and friendly people sharing your journey. It is more than just transportation, the Qinghai-Tibet train is an attraction in itself, promising the experience of a lifetime.

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