World’s First Desert-Circling Railway “Closed Loop” Expected to Run in 2022

Posted by Written by Qian Zhou Reading Time: 2 minutes

On September 27, 2021, Heruo Railway, the “last kilometer” of the railway encircling Taklimakan Desert, completed laying tracks, setting the foundation for operating the world’s first desert-circling railway in 2022.

The construction of the Heruo Railway began in December 2018. It is designed to connect Hetian City in Southern Xinjiang and Ruoqiang County in Bayingolin Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture.

Heruo Railway, together with the existing Geku Railway, Kahe Railway, and Southern Xinjiang Railway, forms a closed railway loop around the Taklimakan Desert.

As a regional trunk line in central and western China, the Heruo Railway is an important project in building an international corridor from China’s western hinterland to South Asia and central and West Asia.

It is expected to be put into operation in June 2022. By then, five counties in Southern Xinjiang, including Lopu, Cele, Yutian, Minfeng, and Qiemo, will finally benefit from rail connectivity.

The improved transportation infrastructure will in turn promote the economic and social development of Southern Xinjiang, one of the country’s poorest regions.

“With a designed speed of 120 kilometers per hour, the fully completed railway line is expected to slash travel time between Hetian prefecture in Xinjiang and Xining, capital of Northwest China’s Qinghai Province, from three days to just one,” as reported by CGTN, China’s official global TV network. The project will integrate Southern Xinjiang into a vast network of railways along Belt & Road routes.

China’s efforts in developing its vast western region

China’s ‘Go West’ strategy, which aims to narrow the economic gap between the less developed west and affluent east coast, has entered its third decade.

With the launch of the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI), Beijing hopes to fit China’s western regions, including Xinjiang, into its ambitious BRI blueprint.

Xinjiang needs to enhance its position as a traffic hub for China to connect BRI countries in the west.

During the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2015-2020), Xinjiang completed a total investment of RMB 4.1 trillion (US$640 billion) in fixed assets and accelerated the construction of transportation and municipal infrastructure. Over the five-year period, 30,000 kilometers of roads and 1,530 kilometers of railways were added to Xinjiang, and 22 airports were built.

At the beginning of the 14th Five-year Plan, the Xinjiang Development and Reform Commission released its list of key projects in 2021, including 350 key projects in water conservancy, transportation, energy, industry and people’s livelihood, with a total investment of RMB 1,649.3 billion (US$257.5 billion).

As to railway construction, the railway operating mileage reached 7,398 kilometers in Xinjiang by 2020, an increase of 1,530 kilometers in the past five years, and railway connectivity has now reached all the prefectures and cities of Xinjiang.

Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, has entered the era of subway. High-speed trains from Urumqi to Xi ‘an have been launched, and Xinjiang railway transport has been integrated into the national high-speed railway network. The completion of Geku Railway opened up a third railway channel to enter and exit Xinjiang.

In 2021, beyond the Heruo Raiway introduced in this article, there are two other railways under development – one is a reconstruction project of Lanxin Railway from Jijicaozi to Urumqi and the second is the railway project from Aksu to Arar.

With the western region emerging more important in China’s BRI blueprint, the infrastructure and connectivity of Xinjiang are expected to continuously improve in the foreseeable future.

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