BEIJING, March 8 (Xinhua) -- China will soon finish building an extension line of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway to link Lhasa to Xigaze, the second largest city in southwestern Tibet Autonomous Region, chairman of the Tibet regional government Losang Jamcan said Friday.
"Hopefully, the Lhasa-Xigaze rail line will be completed at the end of this year or the beginning of 2014," Losang Jamcan said in a group discussion of the government work report at the parliament's annual session, which opened in Beijing Tuesday.
He said the completion of the project would facilitate the development of an ecological tourism zone that covers Lhasa, Xigaze and Nyingchi cities.
China began the construction of the 253-km line from Tibet's capital Lhasa to Xigaze in September 2010.
Stretching through five counties as well as over the 90-km long Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon, the line is expected to bring rail line for the first time to the southwestern parts of Tibet, which now rely solely on roads for transport.
This is the first extension of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway that opened in July 2006.
The Lhasa-Xigaze railway, with a budget of 13.3 billion yuan (about 2.1 billion U.S. dollars), is capable of transporting 8.3 million tonnes of cargo every year, according to previous reports.
In building the new line, engineers have designed route detour around nature reserves and drinking water sources to better protect the fragile plateau environment.
Losang Jamcan said Tibet will continue to boost infrastructure construction to bring out the potential for tourism while protect the ecological environment in the region.
Tibet received 11 million domestic and overseas visitors last year, bringing in a total tourism revenue of 13.2 billion yuan (2.1 billion U.S. dollars), data from the regional government showed.
Xigaze, with a history of more than 600 years, is Tibet's second largest city and the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama.
Xigaze City is the administrative center of the Tibetan prefecture of the same name, a 182,000 square km area that borders India, Nepal and Bhutan. It is also famous for Qomolangma (known as Mount Everest in the West), which rises up from within it.