Scientist says every measure has been taken to protect surrounding ecosystems The central government has worked hard to protect the environment during the construction of the massive Qinghai-Tibet railway, according to a top mainland scientist. Li Bosheng, of the Chinese Academy of Science, said railroad officials consulted environmental scientists and made adjustments to the route of the 1,118km railway, which will link Qinghai's Golmud City to the Tibetan capital, Lhasa. 'This is the first major project for which the government has made environmental protection its top priority. Everybody is taking steps to minimise the line's impact,' said Professor Li, a renowned botanist who has researched the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau for more than 30 years and who is also a member of a special group formed by the government to monitor the environmental impact of the railway project. Scheduled to begin operation in 2007, the railway will be the highest in the world, with more than 80 per cent of the track to be built at an altitude above 4,000 metres, and more than half of that to be laid on frozen earth. Exiled Tibetan activists say the project will significantly increase the population of Han Chinese and destroy the fragile grasslands and wildlife habitat. The area is home to the rare Tibetan antelope and Tibetan wild yak. Professor Li said designers had accounted for these concerns in railway construction plans, such as building special bridges and corridors for the wildlife using machines that do not damage the tundra, and by choosing less ecologically sensitive routes. 'Everything is being closely monitored and the construction must follow strict rules,' he said. According to Professor Li, the State Environmental Protection Administration produced an environmental impact report almost 1,000 pages long. He said more than 300 environmental specialists were involved, inspecting every section of the line and making recommendations to the builders. He said these protection measures added about two billion yuan (HK$1.87 billion) to the cost of the project, which is expected to top 20 billion yuan. Despite his confidence in these efforts, Professor Li admitted there were major concerns - particularly the impact of the 30,000 or so project workers. 'The workers can be a major source of pollution and rubbish. They must follow the guidelines,' he said. Professor Li said builders were required to rehabilitate the land to its previous natural condition.