So often, particularly for those of us living in the US, we take transportation infrastructure for granted. We simply assume that goods can be picked up and delivered anywhere in the country, usually on a fairly reliable schedule, at least comparatively speaking. The idea that a resource or product is useless because it was either too difficult or too expensive to bring to market never occurs to us.
However, in many developing countries infrastructure plays a huge role in their ability to locate and find resources and bring their goods to market. I learned the hard way in Vietnam why transport times between closely located factories and the city were excruciatingly long – well paved and marked roads simply disappear once you get a certain distance outside the city, with many roads far too narrow or in such horrid condition that travel was reduced to a crawl – not to mention the traffic, hands down the worst I have seen anywhere, at least during rush hour. In India, high logistics costs and transport difficulties have hurt their fruit and vegetable exports.
So I was impressed with this post from China Logistics News which describes how the Qinghai-Tibet railway is transforming the Tibetan economy:
Government sources report that Tibetâ€™s trade turnover jumped more than 18% to $140 million in the first 11 months of 2006, resulting in a threefold increase in the regionâ€™s trade surplus over 2005.
Among the Tibetan discoveries is Chinaâ€™s first sizable iron deposit, a seam called Nyixung. It is estimated to contain as much as 500 million tons, which would be enough to put 20% of Chinese iron importers out of business. Estimated reserves of 760 million tons of high-grade iron ore have also been found in the Kunlun Mountains on the western Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and in southern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
In copper three new Tibetan finds have increased Chinaâ€™s total copper reserves by a third. Once production comes online they will decrease imports by the same amount.
Even more surprising was China’s attention to the environmental impact of the railway, as noted by China Logistics News:
Nearly 6% of the budget went towards ecosystem restoration and environmental protection.
Workers replanted large areas of grassland vegetation and its root soil layer and built a network of tunnels to avoid disrupting seasonal migration of animals including the endangered Tibetan antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii).
Planners detoured the tracks around ecologically sensitive areas like wetlands when possible and used bridges when no other option was available. Engineers insulated the tracks and installed temperature-reducing facilities to avoid destabilizing permafrost in frozen areas. All water is recycled to avoid contamination of surrounding natural water systems and stations are equipped with water treatment facilities. The government established five protected areas along the route and plans six more.
Read the whole thing, a very interesting read.