The last section of a 2,712-km rail loop line around China's largest desert, the Taklimakan, in the country's northwesternmost Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region was put into operation on Thursday.
The opening of the Hotan-Ruoqiang rail line will enable trains to skirt a full circle around a desert for the first time in the world, according to the China State Railway Group Co., Ltd. (China Railway).
The Taklimakan Desert rail loop line was completed after the new Hotan-Ruoqiang rail line was linked with the Ruoqiang-Korla section of the Golmud-Korla railway line, and the Korla-Kashgar and Kashgar-Hotan sections of the southern Xinjiang rail line.
The Hotan-Ruoqiang railroad stretches eastward from Hotan City to Ruoqiang County along the southern edge of the Taklimakan, the world's second-largest shifting-sand desert, with 65 percent of its length inside the desert. Its construction started in December 2018.
The newly opened line extends 825 km with a designed speed of 120 km per hour, and it has 22 stations, with 11 offering passenger service and six offering cargo service. Trains can cover the entire distance in 11 hours and 26 minutes.
The completion and opening of this line, a key national railway project, has brought an end to the unavailability of train service in five counties and certain towns in southern Xinjiang and will shorten the travel time for locals, according to China Railway Urumqi Group Co., Ltd.
It will also facilitate the transportation of Xinjiang specialties including cotton, walnuts, red dates and minerals to other parts of the country.
The railway line runs through the southern edge of the Taklimakan Desert, and sandstorms in this region pose a serious threat to the railway. Therefore, anti-desertification programs were carried out simultaneously with railway construction.
Five viaducts with a total length of 49.7 km lift the railroad to protect it against sandstorms, said the China Railway. Meanwhile, a total of 50 million square meters of grass grids have been laid and 13 million trees including rose willow and sea buckthorn have been planted.
Xinjiang has made substantial investments in railway development to build a more extensive transport network. By the end of 2021, the region had 8,151 km of railways in operation, which is of great significance to promoting its economic and social development.