China opened a 1140 km rail line through Tibet this week, one of the world’s most technically advanced trains. The train operates at altitudes of over 5,000 meters, as high as some jetliners fly. The cars offer UV protection and oxygen supplements for the thin air. The rail bed is also a marvel of high technology. Most of the route is over permafrost, a notoriously unstable foundation for construction. So the Chinese elevated long swaths of the track on bridges above the ground in the most troublesome areas, and installed cooling equipment in others to insure the ground stays frozen in the years ahead.
Of course this new train will bind the Tibetan plateau to the Chinese heartland, opening the region to development and possible assimilation. Tibetans around the world are concerned about the changes the railway will bring to their subjugated homeland, protesting and calling it a second invasion.
And before I forget, let me toss in a link about kayaking down the Yangtze, which sounds like a great adventure. They paddled in Yunnan, well upstream of the area that will be flooded by the recently completed Three Gorges Dam.
Meanwhile, sporadic rail service in the impoverished hinterlands of Cambodia has sparked a decidely low-tech solution; bamboo trains, little more than carts with small engines, are providing much needed transportation between towns in Cambodia’s second city of Battambang.