By Col Alok Mathur, SM (Retd)
South China Morning Post reported on June 26, 2021 that the rail link between Lhasa and Nyingchi in China occupied Tibet (COT) was inaugurated on last Friday and is now operational. The first electric high speed train steamed in Nyingchi station from Lhasa after travelling for 3.5 hours at 10: 30 h on June 25, 2021. The highest speed achieved by the train was 160 km per hour (kmph). This dream project is gift to the peace loving people of Tibet from Beijing as part of the centenary celebrations of Communist party of China rule, quoted Global Times.
The 436 km Lhasa Nyingchi link of Siachun Tibet Railway project is of strategic importance for western military region for ferrying man and material to COT, in case of hostilities with India. The trains on this track can run at an average speed of 100 kmph. It is a single line track totally electrified at the average height of 3000 metres above sea level. There are nine stations on the route starting from Lhasa, Quixo, Ganggar, Zhanang, Shangri, Gyasa, Nangxian, Mainling and Nyingchi. The Railway line reduces the travelling time from Lhasa to Nyingchi from 5 hours to 3.5 hours. The railway is an engineering marvel as it runs along treacherous Yarlung Zangbo River (Brahmaputra River). The rail track passes through 47 tunnels and 120 long bridges. The interesting part is that it criss-crosses mighty river 16 times. The monthly freight capacity will be 1 million tonnes and 50,000 passengers/troops. It is claimed that bullet train will bring prosperity and economic development on roof of the world. This segment of Sichuan Tibet railway project will be running south eastern side of Qinghai plateau and will be the second railway link after Qinghai Tibet Railway.
Sichuan Tibet Railway Project originates from Chengdu, the capital of region and passes through Yaan and will enter Tibet Autonomous region at Quimbo and reach Lhasa via Nying chi shortening the journey from 2 days to just 14 hours. The project has been undertaken by Tibet Railway Construction Company, a subsidiary of China state Railway Group in 2014. The cost of the project is 40 billion Yuan ($ 8 billion). The full project is likely to be completed by 2030.
There are various other infrastructure development projects to link remote Tibet region to main land. Last month, a strategic highway has been completed through the grand canyon of Yarlung Zangbo river joining Chengdu to Lhasa via Medong area close to Indian border. As already stated Qinghai Tibet rail link is already operational. There is a plan to establish a 1011 km Rail link to join Yaan to Nyingchi, which is part of Sichuan Tibet project, covering entire north eastern Indian border by 2030. Zhu Weiqun, Tibet affairs party spokesman, stated that party that this rail road will help transport advanced equipment and technologies from main land china to undeveloped Tibet and also help to develop and export local industries also. Moreover, if India interferes, the railway can act as fast track means for delivery of strategic materials to front. Another Railway project is to link Lhasa to Shingste, which has been completed in 2014. Nepal communist party has signed agreement to establish rail link between Shingste and Kathmandu via Gyirong, a 556 km stretch. Nepal segment will be 72 kms. The Sino Nepal rail project will be completed in 2022.
Qinghai – Tibet Railway project was the first rail link from any Chinese province to Tibet. It was started in 1984 and completed in 2006. Xining the capital of Qingahi was the first station and Lhasa was the last station in TAR. The total length of the route is 1956 kms. The route speed limit is 160 kms till Golmund and 100 kms till Lhasa. Phase1 of 815 km from Xining to Golmund was completed in 1990 and balance till Lhasa 1142 kms was completed by 2006. The link was inaugurated on July 1, 2006 and two trains were run from Golmund to Lhasa named Qing 01 UP and Lhasa to Beijing called Zang 02 Express. The capacity of Train is 800 to 1000 Passengers. The track is single and electrified. The train passes through Tanggula pass at the height of 16627 feet and is the highest railway station in the world and through Fenghuoshan tunnel which is the highest rail tunnel in the world at height of 16093 feet. There are 94 station between Xining and Lhasa and 675 bridges and tunnels.
The Sichuan Tibet project was planned to provide eastern link to Tibet basically to connect Chengdsu to Lhasa. The total distance to be covered was 1629 kms and with an aim to cut down travelling time from 48 hours to 13 hours. It was proposed to be completed in three phases. Phase 1 from Chengdsu – Yaan , 90 km double track segment was completed in Dec 2018 .Phase 3 from Nyingchi to Lhasa , a total of 435 kms was to be completed by 25 June 2021 and is now operational. Phase 2, the most crucial was the Yaan – Nyingchi link, of approx. 1011 kms, the work started on November 08, 2020 and is to be completed by 2030. The alignment of this project will cover north of entire area Tawang to Walong across the McMahon line. This will ensure very fast build up Chinese forces all along Arunachal Frontier. The entire area will be converted to High Speed Railway corridor electrified and well connected with stations and road laterals network.
The completion of Sichuan Tibet rail project will have strategic connotation for both belligerent nation. For China , Western Theatre command of Peoples Liberation Army, which had limited resources, can be reinforced by, Central Theatre command at Beijing and Southern command located in Yunnan and Guizhao at much faster speed. The military trains will be able to ferry heavy and Medium Tanks, Armoured Personnel Combat vehicles, Artillery Guns, Troops, Ammunitions, Ration directly to Concentration areas and Assembly areas. Mobilisation will be faster .The limitation of Road and Air movement will be overcome. The McMahon Line from Kibuthu, Walong, Taksin to Bum la, Tsengle till Bhutan will be under threat. The China Nepal Train link once completed will threaten Sikkim from west also. PLA will be able to move in to Nepal through Rail and Road corridor with collaboration of communist ruling party in power, like they occupied Tibet in 1950 and we would lose another Buffer state.
The Line of Actual Control (LAC), the virtual border between China and India is 3488 km long. Out of which 1597 km is in Ladakh Union Territory, 200 km is in Himanchal Pradesh, 345 km in Uttrakhand, and 220 km in Sikkim and 1126 km in Arunachal Pradesh. Erstwhile NEFA. The two active war zones are Eastern Ladakh from Daulat Beg Oldie to Chumar and from Tawang to Walong in Eastern sector. These two Rail projects will directly affect security of Arunachal border and Sikkim frontier also. Fortunately, the Phase 2 of Sichuan Tibet joining Yaan and Nyingchi still on survey level, likely to be completed in 2030. Indian Response is well balanced and gathering momentum. Prime Minister Narendra Modi amid the standoff with China has vowed to improve border infrastructure at fast mode. Dhola Sadiyai, 9.1 km long class 70 Bridge on Lohit River in Assam completed in 2017, Bogie wheel, 5 km long , Rail road bridges in 2018 on mighty Brahmaputra and Atal Tunnel, 9 km long , under Rohtang pass in 2020 are the engineering marvels and befitting reply to China and will ensure faster and adequate mobilisation by Indian Army. In last 2 years, more than 100 roads in border areas have been upgraded. Daulat Beg Oldie to Shyok, Darbuk road was the main cause of Galwan skirmish. 50,000 troops have shifted to Northern and Eastern frontiers. Dragon should realise it is not India of 1962. It is politically strong and militarily robust India of 2021. Rafales and Sukhoi 30 Mk l are well poised to take on any Red misadventure.
-The writer is an Indian Army veteran and a defence analyst. He has keen interest in Geo-strategic affairs and writes regularly on internal and external affairs issues related to India and neighbours. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda