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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 July 2006, 12:37 GMT 13:37 UK
In pictures: Qinghai-Tibet railway

A worker walks along the railway line of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway in the Tanggula mountains, in Tibet, China, Friday May 5 2006

A new railway has opened linking Tibet to China. China says it is an engineering feat, but critics say it will speed up the undermining of traditional Tibetan culture.

Workers maintain the track along the Xining-Geermu section of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway 20/6/06

The 1,100km (750-mile) Qinghai-Tibet railway has been built through some of the most difficult terrain on earth, and rises at one point to 5,072m (16,600ft) above sea level.

A railroad bridge of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway in the shape of a Tibetan Hada (or Khatag) white scarf  - 24/6/06

Because of the region's extreme temperatures and unstable permafrost, long sections of track have been elevated to improve stability.

Train at Golmud (picture from International Campaign for Tibet)

China says the $4.2bn (2.3bn) railway will bring trade, jobs and tourists to one of its poorest regions, and help address economic imbalances between the country's east and west.

Tibetan villagers eat lunch below the Qinghai-Tibet Railway line during a break while patrolling along the line -27/6/06

But Tibetan groups and foreign critics say the railway's real aim is political, as a symbol of China's administrative and military control over a contested border region.

Chinese army trucks carry goods next to the Qinghai-Tibet Railway on June 25, 2006

There are fears the railway will speed up the immigration of ethnic Chinese into Tibet, threatening its distinct cultural and religious identity.

Workers have breakfast in a tent before they maintain the Xining-Golmud section -  17/6/06

Critics also complain that most of the jobs created will go to ethnic Chinese, as Tibet's under-funded schools leave local people poorly educated and unable to speak Chinese.

Xinhua News Agency photo of a train runs on the Qinghai-Tibet railway on the bank of the Co Nag Lake  - 26/6/06

China says environmental concerns were given top priority. It cites the Tibetan antelope, and says construction was suspended so as not to interfere with the animals' migration.

Resettled village of Ne'u, near Lhasa - picture courtesy of International Campaign for Tibet

But longer-term environmental costs - especially those resulting from population and economic growth - will be harder to dodge.

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