China contemplates rail tunnel under Mount Everest, expert says

According to reports in the China Daily newspaper, Beijing is considering the extension of its Tibetan railway line to Nepal, a move that will probably entail building a tunnel under Mount Everest (pictured).

The paper quotes Wang Mengshu, an expert at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, as saying:  "The line will probably have to go through Qomolangma [Mount Everest] so that workers may have to dig some very long tunnels." 

He added that sharp changes in elevation would mean that trains would have a maximum speed of 120kph.

Wang has been quoted as the source for other ambitious rail ideas in China, including one for a high-speed link to the US via Siberia.

The Nepal link, if it is built, would take the form of a 540km extension to the existing line between Qinghai province in the extreme west of China and Tibet. 

Wang said preparatory work is already under way and the line was expected to be complete by 2020. 

Other officials said the line could eventually be extended to India, which would give China the opportunity to increase its trade surplus, which stood at $36bn in 2014.

Last year the Lhasa line was extended 253km to Xigaze, Tibet’s second city, which is closer to the Nepalese border. 

No estimates were offered on the cost of building a line over Tibetan permafrost and under Everest, the world’s tallest mountain. 

Indian sensitivities

The Indian press cast the project idea as Beijing’s latest move in its historic rivalry with New Delhi for influence over countries in the region. 

China recently increased its aid to Nepal from $24m to $128m, its state owned Export Import Bank has already agreed to offer concessional loans worth $1.6bn to fund the 750MW West Seti hydropower scheme.  

Other projects sponsored by the Chinese include airports and a pilgrimage centre at Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha.

However, greater concern is being generated in India by China’s cordial relations with Pakistan.

The latest development here is likely to be a deal to help Pakistan build a natural gas pipeline to Iran, which is expected to be signed during President Xi Jinping’s upcoming visit to Islamabad.

In Sri Lanka, Indian influence seems to have been restored after the new government suspended a Chinese-built port city that had worried India.

Photograph: Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, as seen from south-west Nepal (Wikimedia Commons)

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