China Begins Building Tibet Railway Extension

A new railroad under construction in Tibet will give the region's second largest city a direct rail link to the outside world for the first time.

China's official Xinhua news agency said it will take four years to complete the rail line connecting Shigatse to the Tibetan capital, Lhasa. A rail line from Lhasa to central China was opened in 2006.

Xinhua said China will spend nearly $2 billion to build the line, which will run for 250 kilometers through rugged mountain passes involving numerous bridges and tunnels.

The project is part of Chinese efforts to develop and modernize the vast Tibetan region. China says its goal is to boost economic growth and raise living standards in Tibet.

But critics say the rail line to China has brought an influx of Han Chinese -- the nation's largest ethnic group -- who pose a threat to Tibetan culture.

Critics also accuse China using the railway to plunder the region of its natural resources.

The Tibetan railway is the world's highest, rising above five-thousand meters in elevation.