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New track laid to link Xinjiang's Lop Nur

By Tan Zongyang (China Daily)

08:41, July 23, 2012

A worker guides a crane loading rails onto a freight train at the construction site of Hami-Lop Nur Railway in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region on Thursday. Cao Xinjia / for China Daily

A new track has been laid to link a major potash production base in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region with the country's railway network, creating a pathway for transporting the area's undeveloped natural resources, officials said.

The 374-kilometer line, which was finished on Sunday, will link Luozhong station in Lop Nur with Hami prefecture in eastern Xinjiang and will have an annual capacity of 30 million tons of cargo.

With a total investment of 3 billion yuan ($470 million), the line was a joint project of the Ministry of Railways, the regional government and the State Development and Investment Corp. It took two years to build and will open at the end of October.

"The area along the railway is rich in natural resources, especially leopoldite, to produce potash fertilizer, as well as coal and nonferrous metals such as copper and gold," Turghun Abdulla, deputy Party secretary of Lopnurpo township, was quoted as saying by Xinhua News Agency.

Lop Nur, which was once a large salt lake but is now largely dried up on the east edge of Tarim Basin, holds most of the country's potash salt reserves. It once nurtured the kingdom of Loulan, an ancient civilization along the Silk Road, but gradually became a wild desert region with no human settlement. It was selected as a place for nuclear tests by China in the 1960s.

Li Songyan, deputy chief engineer of the project, told Xinhua that the railway construction was extremely difficult because the weather was harsh and the track had to be laid on a salt-rock base easily eroded by rainfall.

China is the world's largest consumer of potash, which is widely used as fertilizer. The country has relied on other countries to meet market demand, with 70 percent of the resources used being imported.

In 2011, the country produced 4.7 million tons of potash fertilizers but imported 3.78 million tons to meet domestic demand, according to a Xinhua report, citing data from a fertilizer industry association.

Lop Nur, located in the country's remote and underdeveloped northwest region, has a proven reserve of about 500 million tons of potash salt.
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