No death so far in building Qinghai-Tibet Railway

Chinese officials believe they have worked a "world miracle" because no workers have died of altitude disease since 100,000 construction workers began building the world's highest Qinghai-Tibet Railway two years ago.

"We surely have created a world miracle, thanks to the medical and logistics measures taken to protect the railway builders," said Lu Chunfang, general director of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway Construction Headquarters.

"We have to be very careful," he added, referring to working on the world's highest plateau.

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway is one of China's most formidable projects since its builders face tough technical and health problems like highland cold, frozen earth, oxygen shortage and high altitude disease.

Any violent movements on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, known as "the roof of the world", are very dangerous for dwellers from plains, let alone the builders sweating to dig tunnels and lay tracks for the railway, as history shows.

The construction of the Xining-Yushu Highway in Qinghai Province in 1943 claimed some 10,000 migrant workers while the building of the Sichuan-Tibet Highway and Qinghai-Tibet Highway inthe 1950s cost the lives of more than 3,000 builders, an average of one death for every two kilometers.

"Every construction worker has health clearance before stepping on the plateau," said Lu Chunfang. "Everyone passes a strict physical examination before being enrolled into the construction team."

Lu said those qualified construction workers must first acclimatize to Golmud, a 2,800-meter-high city in Qinghai Province, and learn how to work under the circumstances on the plateau before qualifying to work higher at land above 4,000 meters above sea level.

He said the construction headquarters and construction units have invested about 200 million yuan (some 24 million US dollars) to buy medical equipment like oxygen-producing equipment, high-pressure cabins and anti-anoxia medicines.

According to the headquarters' statistics, all the sick and wounded railway builders have received timely medical treatment, with more than 500 critically ill workers being rescued and 1,469 people sent back to plain areas since construction started two years ago.

The 1,956-km Qinghai-Tibet Railway will run from Xining, the capital of northwest China's Qinghai Province, to Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The section from Xining to Golmud City in Qinghai was completed in 1984. Construction of the 1,118-km section connecting Golmud with Lhasa began in June 2001 and is expected to be completed by 2007.

The construction plan calls for a total investment of 16 billion yuan (1.9 billion US dollars) for the 554-kilometer permafrost section of the railway.



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