The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal

Informed but opinionated commentary and analysis on urban transportation topics from the Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty.

Our Mission: Monkeywrench the Anti-Transit Forces

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Monday, August 16, 2004


Home of So Few Transit Links Than You can Possibly Check(tm), Unless you have no life other than websurfing

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity: and I'm not so sure about the universe. Einstein

IMPORTANT NOTE: FOC's ("Friends of the Cabal") (you know, like "FOB's"--"Friends of Bill" [Clinton]) have now all been promoted to "Adjuct Scholars" of The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal. You know, like Wendell Cox, Randal O'Toole, et al are "Adjunct Scholars" (sic) to the Reason Foundation, the Buckeye Institute, the Cascade Policy Institute, and 500+ other conservative/libertarian "Think (sic) Tanks". Congratulations, Dudes!

From the Cabalmaster:

The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal continues its quest for interesting stories from places far and wide -- we are, after all, a WORLDWIDE cabal.

One of the world’s most difficult – and controversial – infrastructure projects is being built by China, to link its “Tibetan Autonomous Region” to the rest of the country. As you’ll see, this project has attracted reams of criticism.

We’ll start with a fact little known except perhaps to those who enjoy musty old books in musty old libraries. . . .

. . . hmm . . . Maybe it’s not so obscure after all:

The idea for railways in Tibet did not originate as a nefarious Communist plot. Dr. Sun Yat-sen, founder of China’s Nationalist Party, proposed construction of 150,000 km (100,000 mi) of railways. Later revisions outlined a so-called “Plateau System” of narrow-gauge lines throughout Tibet, connecting with China proper, and with India.

Intrepid Websurfers wanting a good, concise overview of Tibetan history might want to check out the following page on the “Lonely Planet” website

Following the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949, China pursued large-scale rail development as part of successive five-year plans. Mao Zedong twice ordered construction of a rail link to Tibet The railway network did eventually reach the fringes of historic Tibet, but the technical and financial obstacles to building across some of the world’s most inhospitable terrain kept trains far away from fabled Lhasa, the Tibetan capital.

Then, in 1994, China announced plans to build from Gormo (aka Golmud) to Lhasa, 1,200 km (700 miles). The State Council gave the go-ahead early in 2001, and completion was anticipated for 2007. The project includes about 30 km (20 mi) of tunnels, 600 km (400 mi) of line built on permafrost and 960 km (600 mi ) of line 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) or more above sea level. Estimated construction cost: about $2.5 billion (= $2 million / km; = $3.5 million/mile).

We can’t claim credit for the “Great Rail of China” label – that came from a with links to various English-language stories produced by Chinese media outlets (sample: China Builds Clean, Green Qinghai-Tibet Railway, Xinhua, 15 April 2002.)

Not everyone shares the enthusiasm expressed by Xinhua and People’s Daily. The project has attracted much criticism on grounds that the rail link will lead to increased migration of ethnic Chinese into Tibetan-populated areas and, in addition, increased damage to Tibet’s fragile environment ( The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, says that the rail project is one of the factors that threatens his country’s cultural survival

The report we mentioned above (Crossing the Line, International Campaign for Tibet, is an impressive work, but we disagree with a key premise. Strictly speaking, what China is building is not “a railway,” but “increased surface transport capacity.” If that sounds a bit like Orwellian “Newspeak,” consider:

--The Gormo – Lhasa railway will closely parallel the existing Gormo – Lhasa road.

--Roads can be widened to increase capacity, and can be realigned to permit higher speed.

--Rather than build the railway, China could have decided to widen and upgrade the Gormo – Lhasa road instead.

--We Opinionated Ones share a nagging suspicion that a road-widening project would not have attracted the same criticism that the railway project has.

China has a lot to answer for re. its actions in Tibet over the past five decades, as even the current leadership has been known to acknowledge. But a widened Gormo – Lhasa road would not necessarily be more “green” (or less “bad”) than the railway. Skeptics are invited to read up on the country locally known as Republica Federativa do Brasil and the environmental impacts of its Transamazonia Highway, We think the relevant question for ANY route or corridor is 1.) whether any additional surface transport capacity should be provided, and 2.) if so, then how much additional capacity, and by what mode.

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