More than 6.5 million people used the Gormo-Lhasa rail line to travel to Tibet in 2011 according to the Qinghai-Tibet Railway Company — an organisation managed by China’s Ministry of Railway.
The given figures were almost double the number of people who travelled to Tibet, which includes many Han migrants, in 2007 and a significant 9 per cent increase from 2010, according to the railway company.
China’s state-run news agency quoted railway officials as projecting that 6.9 million passengers were likely to use the rail line dubbed as the world’s highest railways in 2012.
The Gormo-Lhasa railway which began operations in 2006 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 an official with the Xining-based railway company, 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.