Not Just a Miracle, Qinghai-Tibet Railway Project have Done Lots of Efforts in Protecting Biodiversity and Fragile Ecological Environment in Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

General constructions of railways, roads and other types of traffic lines cannot avoid several deleterious effects to the environment by partitioning the landscape, which are disconnection, pollution, even damage of the natural ecosystems (T & E, 1998; T, 1999). Constructed railways separate terrestrial animal populations into isolated subpopulations, affecting their behaviours and destroying their habitats (L & G, 1994). Apart from promoting the social-economic development of western China, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway (Fig. 1) aimed at minimizing negative influences to the vulnerable ecosystems in Qinghai-Tibet Plateau especially in the Hoh Xil (Kekexili), Sanjiangyuan, and Qiangtang Natural Reserves (Fig. 2) it passes through.


Fig. 1 the Qinghai-Tibet Railway is the first railway to Tibet with aravage elevation of 4,500 meters (Tibet Vista, n.d.).

Main Natural Reserves the Railway Passes through

Changtang Nature Reserve, located at the northern Tibetan Plateau, is the second largest natural reserve in the world that covers 334,000 square kilometres area. (Dorje, 2009).

Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve (SNNR), consists of 18 subareas of three zones (wetland, wildlife, and shrub-land conservation) with 152,300 square kilometres area in Qinghai province, is the source of the Yangtze River, the Yellow River, and the Mekong River (Goodman, 2004).

Hoh Xil Natural Reserve, one of the main sources of the Yangtze River with 45,000 square kilometres area, is encompassed in Hoh Xil which is the China’s largest and world’s third largest uninhabited area (83,000 square kilometers) located between the Tanggula and Kunlun Mountains in the northwestern part of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (has average elevation of 4,500m) (J.J., n.d.; Xinhua News Agency-CEIS, 2015, May 16).

As the most important natural reserve, Hoh Xil Natural Reserve has 202 kinds of plants, 29 kinds of mammals and 53 kinds of birds, and 84 of them are unique living on Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (J.J., n.d.), and it is the destination of seasonal migrating species. As instance, Tibetan antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii), Tibetan gazelle (Procapra picticaudata) and Kiang (Equus kiang) are animals in the protection list of animals at the national level in China, which were ever abundant and widely distributed in areas of grassland habitat at high elevation (Xia, et al., 2007). Tibetan antelope and Tibetan gazelle have been declined greatly during 20th century mainly caused by hunting, and the main reason of Kiang’s decline was over-grazing.


Fig. 2 natural reserves and scenery of Qinghai-Tibet Railway line (Tibet Vista, n.d.)

The Efforts of Qinghai-Tibet Railway Project

For ecological protection, several environmental impact evaluations and measures have been done:

1. 33 Bridge-like safety channels (animal corridors) were built Qinghai-Tibet Railway. For example, at the Wudaoliang Basin, one of the most important animal corridors designed for migrating species especially the Tibetan antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii) that migrates for mating and reproduction (Fig. 3) in Hoh-xil Natural Reserve, and animals dungs were spread to encourage them to pass through (, 2002). When trains come cross this safety zone for migrating animals at the Wudaoliang Basin, whistle blow is prohibited. In recent years after this railway formally opened, many groups of Tibetan antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii) have been observed past through wudaoliang animal Corridor with nearly one hundred percent of passing rate (China Tibet News, 2016, July 6).


Fig. 3 each year in May, the pregnant Tibetan antelope pass through animal corridors to migrate to Hoh Xil Nature Reserve to deliver baby antelope.

2. Since 2007, restoration of vegetation in Qinghai-Tibet Railway Project started to by planting grass along the railway includes the slope toes and the roadbed side slopes in the southern Tanggula Mountains (China Tibet Online, 2010, January 28). By 2010, 142 square kilometre area has been restored to grasslands.

3. During construction, 5 tons of daily garbage from 20,000 builders were classified and dealt with separately, of which degradable garbage without pollution to water was buried on the spot, and sewage evaporated by sprinkling it (, 2002). In operation of Trains, carriages are enclosed: open doors and windows are prohibited to make sure nothing will be thrown out along the railway line as garbage; water-polluting garbage are transported to Lhasa or Golmud for treatment.

4. In a long-term point of view, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway will not damage the environment, but results in promotion of biodiversity conservation and environmental protection. Since Tibet is short of coal resources, high transportation cost by highway before constructing the railway causes unreasonable structure of energy consumption. That is, apart from using wood and animal dung as the main fuels in pastoral and agricultural areas, local people in Northern Tibet cut down pine trees for fuel (, 2002). Cutting down results in further damage to fragile ecological environment, which can be effectively mitigated after transporting coal and petroleum into Tibet by railway as stopping felling the trees and building more reasonable structure of energy consumption.

There is no doubt that the Qinghai-Tibet Railway Project have done lots of efforts for protecting the fragile ecological environment in areas that this railway passes through. As time going on, more and more positive effects will appear.

Links of interesting videos about the Qinghai-Tibet Railway:


China Tibet News, 2016, July 6. The animals in here still live at ease. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 9 10 2017].

China Tibet Online, 2010, January 28. China makes Qinghai-Tibet Rwailway environment-friendly. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 9 10 2016]., 2002. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway: An Engineering Miracle. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 9 10 2016].

Dorje, G., 2009. Footprint Tibet Handbook. 4 ed. Bath, U.K: s.n.

Goodman, D., 2004. “Qinghai and the Emergence of the West: Nationalities, Communal Interaction, and National Integration”. The China Quarterly, Volume 178.

J.J., Z., n.d. Welcome to Hoh Xil Natural Reserve. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 9 10 2016].

L, F. & G, M., 1994. Conservation of fragmented populations. Conservation Biology, Volume 8, pp. 50-59.

T, F. R. T., 1999. Horizontal processes, roads, suburbs, societal objectives, and landscape ecology. In: Landscape ecological analysis: Issues and applications. Berlin: Springer Verlag, pp. 35-53.

T, F. R. T. & E, A. L., 1998. Roads and their major ecological l effects. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, Volume 29, pp. 207-231.

Xia, L. et al., 2007. The effect of the Qinghai-Tibet railway on the migration of Tibetan antelope Pantholops hodgsonii in Hoh-xil National Nature Reserve, China. Oryx, 41(3), pp. 352-357.

Xinhua News Agency-CEIS, 2015, May 16. Large-scale field surveys begin in china’s hoh xil nature reserve. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 9 10 2016].


Hope you like it!

By Honghao Zeng U5758053


About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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One Response to Not Just a Miracle, Qinghai-Tibet Railway Project have Done Lots of Efforts in Protecting Biodiversity and Fragile Ecological Environment in Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

  1. I would really like to catch that train and travel through this wild part of China! Phil

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