DHARAMSHALA, May 8: Statistics releases by a Chinese state company say that more than 49 million people have travelled on the Gormo-Lhasa railway since the route opened in July 2006.
A spokesperson for the Sining based Qinghai-Tibet Railway Company told the official Xinhua news agency that passengers on the railway have increased on average 10.3 percent annually.
According to the spokesperson, a total of 8.6 million tourists visited Tibet in 2011 on the railway billed as the world’s highest. However, earlier this year the same company had said that 6.5 million people had used the rail line during the same period.
The Gormo-Lhasa railway is the cornerstone of China’s Western Development Strategy aimed at cementing its control over the restive Tibetan region.
A political project, as stated by China’s former president Jiang Zemin, the rail line is meant to consolidate a strong Chinese presence in Tibet by accelerating Han migration into Tibet.
As a direct impact of the railways, the population of Tibet’s ancient capital city of Lhasa which used to be 50-60,000 soared to 300,000 of which 200,000 were Han Chinese immigrants.
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has often stated that “some kind of cultural genocide” is taking place inside Tibet with pointers to the rail line representing a form of “demographic aggression” by China.
According to the same report, the high-elevation rail line also transported 40 million tonnes of cargo in 2011 – an 8 per cent year-on-year increase.
Although the official did not specify the types of cargo transported, one of the foremost purposes of the 1,956 km rail line has been to provide easier access to Tibet’s mines and greatly increase the transfer of extracted minerals from the resource rich Tibetan plateau.
Officials at the railway company estimate that by the end of the 2011-2015 period, Tibet will receive annual tourist arrivals of around 20 million.