A railway linking the picturesque cities of Lijiang and Shangri-La in Southwest China's Yunnan province officially opened to traffic on Sunday, connecting the province's Dechen prefecture to the country's high-speed railway network.
The railway, which boasts a total length of 139.7 kilometers and is designed to facilitate a maximum speed of 140 km per hour, is expected to reduce travel time between the two well-known tourist cities to 1 hour and 18 minutes.
It is also expected to greatly enhance the economic integration between Lijiang and Dechen, and contribute to the high-quality development of the local economy.
Construction of the railway posed significant challenges due to the complex geological and topographical conditions, said Zhang Minyin, commander of the Western Yunnan Railway Construction Headquarters of China Railway Kunming Bureau Group Co.
With an elevation ranging from 2,400 meters at the Lijiang station to 3,274 meters at the Shangri-La station, the railway passes through one of the most geologically active regions in China, where the Indian and Eurasian plates converge.
It took around 20,000 workers about nine years to build the section since construction of the railway started in December 2014.
"A total of 34 new bridges and 20 new tunnels were built for the railway, covering more than 70 percent of the route, accumulating valuable experience in plateau railway construction," Zhang said.
Innovative technologies, such as the world's leading large deformation control technology, were employed to overcome the difficulties of high crustal stress and large deformation encountered during the construction of tunnels, which go through the Jade Dragon and Haba snow mountains, he said.
The railway also features the Jinsha River grand bridge, the world's first large-span steel truss railway-specific suspension bridge, according to Zhang.
With a total length of 882.5 meters and a main span of 660 meters, the bridge stands a staggering 250 meters above the river, he said, adding that the successful construction of the bridge has set several records in the history of railway construction, both in China and the world.
Zhang Ping, deputy director of China Railway Kunming Bureau Group's passenger transportation department, said eight passenger trains and two freight trains will run daily on the route during the initial operation phase.
The railway is expected to reduce the travel time between Kunming and Shangri-La to 4 hours and 30 minutes, and that between Dali and Shangri-La to 3 hours and 58 minutes. It will not only improve the stability and accessibility of transportation along the route, but also connect Shangri-La with other tourist destinations such as Lijiang Old Town, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Ci Zhui, a singer from Dechen, wrote and composed a song to celebrate the railway's opening, with the lyrics: In the place closest to the sun, there is a legendary Shangri-La. On the lost horizon, a golden dragon flies in.... This is a road of hope, leading to a heavenly paradise. This is an auspicious road, leading to happiness and well-being.
She said the song sends blessings to the railway and praises the spirit of all those who worked hard to build the project.
Larong Dawa, 42, who runs a small workshop for brewing highland barley wine in Shangri-La, said the new railway has made traveling more convenient for residents as well as tourists. "In the past, it took us one day to reach Kunming. But now it takes less than five hours."
Tang Yan, 29, who works at the Shangri-La station, said the railway will likely bring more travelers to the city. "I will provide dedicated services to all passengers and help them experience the hospitality of Shangri-La."
Tang said she believes the railway will "attract more businesses and investors, and our unique agricultural products will be sold across the country and even around the world".
She added that she anticipates a transformation of her hometown and an improvement in the quality of people's lives as the economy develops.