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Qinghai-Tibet Railway Boosts Pride and Economies

As the Qinghai-Tibet railway gets set to launch its maiden run on July 1, not only is national pride on the rise but continuing analysis of the practical benefits show the region is likely to experience an economic boom.

"We have a saying that half of the Tibet's gross domestic product (GDP) has been left on the road, which will become outdated once the railway starts running," said Chidain Doje, a professor of economics at Qinghai University of Nationalities.

While the province of Qinghai and the region of Tibet are both massively rich in natural resources, their combined economies are less than one thirtieth the size of Shanghai's. Although the economic comparison may not be entirely fair, experts agree the railway will be akin to pulling the cork out of the bottleneck that has held the region's development back for decades.

A ton of coal or cement now sells for more than 800 yuan (100 U.S. dollars) in Lhasa, the regional capital of Tibet, almost four times the price in the country's inland provinces. Transportation costs for even these essential products now account for 75 percent of the price.

Once the new rail line becomes fully operational, the region's total capacity to move products in and resources out is expected to increase 45 times its current level.

With projections and calculations such as these, it's little wonder people are talking about the dawning of a golden age of development for what many called China's final frontier.

Now developers can seriously consider mining and manufacturing as viable industries for Qinhai and Tibet. The railway will mean they can now get heavy machinery into the remote, resource-rich region and in turn they can move raw materials by the millions of tons all the way to port cities.

The railway is expected to have its biggest and most immediate impact on Tibet's tourism industry. Even in its relative remoteness more than 2.5 million tourists are expected to come to Tibet this year. Now that travelers can jump a train in Shanghai and get off in Lhasa tourism is expected to double by 2010 with annual direct tourism income of 5.8 billion yuan (US$725 million), said Xu Hao, deputy director of the Tibet regional tourism department. The regional government is working hard on improving tourist infrastructure to meet the influx of visitors that are expected by the end of the decade.

"As transportation improves the development of natural resources, local talent and the spreading of (Western China) culture will all benefit," said Zhou Liqun, head of the economics school of the prestigious Nankai University.

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