The train runs through the desert. Barriers along the rails prevent quick sand. (Xinhua photo/Zhao Ge)
It is still dark on the chilly morning in Kashgar, China's westernmost city. In the station a green train is waiting next to a platform packed with passengers. The signs below carriage windows say "KAShI (Kashgar) - HETIAN (Hotan) - WULUMUQI (Urumqi)".
The 485-km train route linking two major oasis towns Kashgar and Hotan, runs through some of the remotest areas in Xinjiang, and has transformed life in the desert since its launch in 2011. It is the first and only railway in Hotan, via the railway the underdeveloped prefecture is linked to the rest of the country's rail network, which boasts 22,000 km of high-speed railway lines.
Poor transport infrastructure has caused China's west to lag behind eastern regions in terms of economic competitiveness. Building more railways has become a necessity for the country's western region to expand growth and social development along the Silk Road.
There was only one train per day when the passenger service was launched in June, 2011. Another train was added in 2016 to better meet local demand.
In each trip some 1,000 passengers can board the 19-carriage train to cross the desert. The seven-hour ride costs only 28 yuan (4.2 U.S. dollars), one of the cheapest passenger train services in the country.
Traveling used to be vexing in Hotan, where sand and dust storms dominate weather about 200 days of the year.
"My clothes were a mess when I used to travel on donkey back or by car," says Seydiehmet Kichik, from Hotan, "Now the train brings me to more job opportunities outside." Working as a cotton picker in Aksu Prefecture, about 600 km from his hometown, Seydiehmet can earn 12,000 yuan in a three-month harvest season, more than his entire income for the previous year.
The railway has shortened the distance between local people and their ideal schools and jobs. 15 million trips were made during the past six years, according to local railway authorities.
Passengers board the Kashgar-Hotan train. (Xinhua photo/Zhao Ge)
Passengers in a compartment. (Xinhua photo/Zhao Ge)
It is the first time 77-year-old Memet Hapiz has taken a train. He is going to Kashgar to visit family. (Xinhua photo/Zhao Ge)
A passenger has her ticket checked before boarding the train. (Xinhua photo/Zhao Ge)
Seydiehmet Kichik takes the train to work in Aksu. (Xinhua photo/Zhao Ge)
Passengers walk through an underpass to the platform. (Xinhua photo/Zhao Ge)
A conductor helps the passengers with their luggage. (Xinhua photo/Zhao Ge)
On the way home for a monthly vacation, some middle school students take a nap. (Xinhua photo/Zhao Ge)
Passengers are seen on the Train No. 5809 linking Kashgar and Hotan in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Nov. 24, 2017. (Xinhua/Zhao Ge)
Napping and playing with cellphones are the most common ways to kill time on the train. (Xinhua photo/Zhao Ge)
Conductor Subinur Tayer cleans the sand when the train enters the desert. (Xinhua photo/Zhao Ge)