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Qinghai Tibet Railway: Why It is Extraordinary and How to Take the Train Route?

Last Update: March 14, 2024

The extraordinary Qinghai-Tibet Railway traverses across 1,956 kilometers of the stunning Tibetan Plateau. More than just a way to get from point A to point B, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway is an awe-inspiring sightseeing activity of its own. The more you learn about the railway, the more impressive it is, and easier to understand why it remains so popular with tourists going to Tibet. Keep reading to find out more about why it is so extraordinary and how to take the train route.

Qinghai Tibet Railway Basic Facts - World Records & Impact

The main Qinghai-Tibet Railway starts from Xining, the capital of Qinghai Province, and ends in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region. Constructions began in 2001, and it took five years of overcoming engineering challenges before the railway began operation in 2006. At 1,956 kilometers and averaging an altitude of 4,000 meters, it is one of the longest high-altitude railways in the world.

It holds several world records. It is the world's highest-altitude railway, with the highest railway station at 5,072 meres at Tanggula Pass. With speeds reaching 100km/h, it is the fastest plateau railway. The Tanggula Tunnel is also the highest railway tunnel in the world.

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway continues to have a significant impact. By connecting Tibet to the rest of China, people, goods, and resources move more easily between regions. This has stimulated economic development, opening up trade and infrastructure growth opportunities. It has also become a popular route for tourists by making the region more accessible.

Qinghai Tibet Railway Construction - Why It is an Engineering Marvel?

The challenges that had to be overcome in building the railway have made it an engineering marvel around the world. Harsh conditions and high altitudes placed strong demands on workers and materials. At elevations over 5,000 meters, low oxygen levels and temperatures well below freezing made even the simplest tasks difficult.

New engineering solutions had to be developed to cope with permafrost. Large portions of the route pass through these areas, where the ground remains frozen year-round. The railway uses innovative designs with elevated tracks and special foundations that prevent thawing.

Qinghai Tibet RailwayQinghai Tibet Railway is an engineering marvel around the world.

The rough terrain also required numerous engineering structures, such as bridges and tunnels, that could withstand the extreme conditions, and the train itself incorporates oxygen-supplied cabins to help passengers deal with the risks of high-altitude travel.

All the design and construction were completed in a way that minimized environmental damage and was respectful of cultural traditions. The resulting engineering marvel is a sustainable and functional transportation link that improves lives in the region.

Qinghai Tibet Railway Route - Journey from Xining to Lhasa

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway journey begins in Xining. The capital of Qinghai Province sits at 2,200 meters, giving passengers an early start to acclimatizing to the high altitude. Golmud is the third station. It is an important industrial city situated at 2,809 meters. From Golmud, passengers can begin to witness the transition to the high-altitude plateau.

After gradually ascending, the next major stop is Tuotuohe (Tuotuo River). This is where the headwaters of the Yangtze River are found. The ascent continues to Tanggula Pass, the highest point on the railway at 5,072 meters.

Qinghai-Tibet RailwayTibet train passes the Tuotuo River along the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.

Nagqu, the next significant town along the route, is surrounded by vast grasslands. The views of the area are stunning, and passengers can witness the region's unique culture.

Continuing the descent, the train finally stops in Lhasa at 3,650 meters. Approaching the provincial capital of Tibet, passengers can see the iconic city set against the beautiful backdrop of the plateau's landscapes.

Qinghai Tibet Railway Highlights - Scenic Attractions along the Route

Tibet is unlike any part of the world, and you won't want to miss any of the scenery along your train journey to the plateau. Some of the main scenic attractions of Qinghai Tibet Railway are:

Qinghai Lake is the largest saltwater lake in China. The serene beauty of its vast waters surrounded by rolling hills is a perfect starting point for the journey's scenery.

The Kunlun Mountains are visible as the train approaches Golmud. Passengers are treated to panoramic views of the snow-capped peaks.

Kunlun MountainsKunlun Mountains offers scenic views along Qinghai-Tibet Railway.

Tangula Pass's high altitude is a fantastic vantage point for the stunning vistas of the surrounding mountains.

On the Grasslands of Nagqu, passengers can often catch a glimpse of the nomadic Tibetan way of life and see herds of yak and other wildlife.

Rivers and gorges that have carved their way through the high-altitude landscape are visible through much of the journey.

The Lhasa Valley, visible on the descent to Lhasa, is a place of scenic beauty with monasteries dotting the landscape.

Qinghai Tibet Railway Travel Duration - How Long does It Take?

To cover the whole distance from Xining to Lhasa by train takes 21-21.5 hours. Since it is almost a full day, part of the journey will be at night, so you'll want to choose a train that passes through the areas you want to see while it's daylight outside.

Trains to Tibet depart from Xining throughout the day. There are seven trains daily, from 11:41 until 23:10. On the first train of the day, you'll get great views of Qinghai Lake through Golmud, but it will be dark passing through the Nagqu Grasslands. On the last train, you'll miss the scenery from Xining to Golmud and arrive in Lhasa after dark. Decide which parts are most important to you, or take the train back from Lhasa to Xining at a different time to see the views you missed.

Qinghai Tibet RailwayOn the first train of the day, you'll get great views of Qinghai Lake.

Qinghai Tibet Railway Onboard Experience - Taking the Special Tibet Train

The train is designed with the comfort and safety of passengers in mind. Hot food is available throughout the day in the dining car, or the food cart pushed through the train. Chinese food, like noodles, rice, and other dishes and beverages, are served three times a day. Drinks, snacks, and pre-packaged meals are available anytime.

dining car on Tibet trainThe dining car on Tibet train offers 3 meals.

Boiled water is supplied 24 hours a day from hot water dispensers. Bring your own water flask, and you can use the water to make instant noodles. Soft sleeper carriages have Western-style toilets. You can also find seats along the hallway with big windows to watch the scenery go by.

For passenger safety, distributed oxygen systems are equipped on the train to mitigate risks of altitude sickness. Oxygen supply can be increased or administered to individual passengers experiencing discomfort.

Qinghai Tibet Railway Ticket Price - Which Seat to Choose and How to Book?

There are three kinds of tickets at different prices. The cheapest are hard seats, but we strongly recommend getting a sleeper for the train journey. Hard sleeper and soft sleeper tickets will give you a place to rest throughout the night on the train.

For the train from Xining to Lhasa, hard sleeper tickets cost 495 RMB. A hard sleeper has six small bunks in one compartment without a door. It is a more social experience, but other passengers moving through the aisle may disturb your sleep.

The best option is to book a soft sleeper well in advance to ensure you get a ticket. A soft sleeper costs 781 RMB. Each soft sleeper cabin has only four bunks in a larger space with a door that can be closed and locked. Each bed has a pillow and warm blanket and is equipped with an individual TV screen and headphones. The extra cost is worth it to travel in comfort and arrive refreshed for your tour in Tibet.

Tibet train soft sleeperTibet train soft sleeper offers comfortable experience.

Qinghai Tibet Railway Extension - Traveling Further to Shigatse and Nepal

In 2014, a rail connection between Lhasa and Shigatse was opened for service. Every day, two pairs of trains run between the 248 km between the two cities on a 2.5-hour journey. Cutting travel time by over two hours, this train route quickly became the primary mode of transportation between Lhasa and Shigatse.

The newest high-speed train in Tibet is the Lhasa-Nyingchi train. It opened in 2021 and reduced travel times considerably. At elevations over 3,000 meters, connecting the 34 stations along this line was another engineering feat.

Lhasa to Nyingchi high-speed trainLhasa to Nyingchi bullet train is the newest high-speed train in Tibet.

Plans exist for a direct train route between Lhasa and Kathmandu in Nepal. Construction on the next section, which will extend from Shigatse to Gyirong at the border with Nepal, is expected to start in 2025. In the future, it will be possible to travel across the entire Tibetan region with the speed and comfort of a modern train.


The Qinghai-Tibet Railway draws 1,000s of domestic and international tourists every year to gaze in wonder at the passing landscapes of the Tibetan Plateau. Standing as a testament to human ingenuity and endurance, the railway is one of the best ways to see the region firsthand. Tickets are always in high demand, especially during the high season. If you're planning on making the journey, don't delay. Contact us as soon as possible to make sure you get the tickets you want.

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