Railway employees ensure safe train operations during busiest time of year
By Tao Zihui  ·  2023-01-18  ·   Source: NO.4 JANUARY 26, 2023
Chen Lili is on duty on a platform at Zhangjiakou Railway Station on January 13. (ZHANG WEI)

All was dark and quiet outside, at 5 a.m. on January 13, with temperatures plummeting to 22 degrees Celsius below zero. Chen Lili, an operations director at Zhangjiakou Railway Station in Zhangjiakou, Hebei Province, was at home getting ready to leave for work.

At 5:30 a.m., Chen arrived at the station where her morning shift would commence at 6 a.m. sharp. After changing into her work clothes, putting on anti-COVID-19 protective gear and gathering the necessary work equipment, like walkie-talkies and audio and video recorders, Chen headed over to her designated train platform. This was her 10th Spring Festival travel rush, the country's typical 40-day transportation peak around the Chinese New Year, as a railway worker. This year's travel rush, also known as chunyun in Chinese, started on January 7 and will last until February 15. It is estimated to see roughly 2.1 billion passenger trips, up 99.5 percent from the same period last year. A significant proportion of these trips will be made by train.

Duty and diligence 

As an operations director with China Railway Beijing Bureau Group Co. Ltd., 36-year-old Chen is mainly responsible for receiving and dispatching high-speed trains as well as regular-speed trains, and for ensuring the safety of passengers boarding and disembarking.

On this day, Chen was to oversee boarding operations on two of the station's busiest platforms. The huge passenger flow, courtesy of the long-distance trains arriving at and departing from the platforms, would make her job more demanding than usual. "Be careful and then be even more careful; don't get sloppy," Chen reminded herself.

The year 2022 was a tough one for many residents of China, with the rapid spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant greatly affecting daily life nationwide. As the country eased its COVID-19 control policy early last December, also scrapping domestic travel restrictions, many people were looking forward to a trip home for the Spring Festival holiday (January 21-27).

Given the Spring Festival holiday season also happens to be the busiest time of year for China's railway industry, as hundreds of millions reunite with their families all over the country, many railway employees like Chen remain on duty, ensuring the safe operation of every single passenger train under their supervision.

"I haven't been home for the Chinese New Year in 10 years. When I worked as a train conductor, I would celebrate New Year's Eve on the train with my colleagues and passengers; this year, I was on duty at the station," Chen told Beijing Review.

"China's railways serve the people," Chen said. "Even though many of us [working at the station] often cannot return home to celebrate the Spring Festival ourselves, seeing all the passengers embark on a safe and smooth journey to reunite with their loved ones makes us happy," she added.

Past and future 

For Chen, the current working environment is much better than when she first started her career as a railway employee in 2013. "I was a conductor on the slow train, or what we called the 'green train'—in reference to its carriage color scheme; it took more than six hours to get from Zhangjiakou to Beijing."

Things changed after the Beijing-Zhangjiakou High-Speed Railway went into operation.

On December 30, 2019, after four years of construction, the high-speed railway line connecting Beijing and Zhangjiakou, the co-host city of the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, was up and running. The new line was an important part of the region's infrastructure plans to serve the 2022 Olympics.

The railway stretches 174 km, with a maximum design speed of 350 km per hour, reducing travel time between Beijing and Zhangjiakou to 47 minutes and stopping at 10 stations along the way.

"I still remember my first trip on the high-speed train," Chen recalled. "That feeling of flying, the scenery flashing by… I remember it like it was yesterday."


Chen Lili gives guidance to her colleague in a monitoring room at Zhangjiakou Railway Station in Zhangjiakou, Hebei Province, on January 13 (ZHANG WEI)

Pride and possibility 

At 8:05 a.m. on January 13 in Beijing North Railway Station, the D6711 train left the station right on time, heading for Taizicheng Station in Zhangjiakou's Chongli District, which hosted most of the skiing events during the Winter Olympics.

This cutting-edge train is among the most advanced in the world. The new railway is in sharp contrast with another railway between the two cities, the Beijing-Zhangjiakou Railway completed in 1909.

The old railway was China's first-ever domestically designed and constructed railway, with a design speed of just 35 km per hour.

The differences between these two railways connecting Beijing and Zhangjiakou mirror the progress that China has made in railway development in the past century.

During the Winter Olympics, Chen served as a guide at Taizicheng Station—which was included in the Olympics' closed-loop management, a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. "I had never met so many foreigners; my English improved by leaps and bounds!" she laughed. Though a year has passed since, Chen is still proud to have served the Winter Olympics.

This winter season is the first ice and snow season following the conclusion of the Winter Olympics. The high-speed railway linking Beijing and Zhangjiakou has seen a rising number of passengers recently. Many travelers are headed to the ski resorts dotted along the rail line, Taizicheng being one of them. The railway station has also set up a check-in counter in the waiting hall where ice and snow aficionados on their way home can drop off their ski and snowboard equipment prior to boarding their train so that the equipment can be delivered directly to their destinations.

"After the Winter Olympics concluded, all service facilities in the station were opened to the public, and memories of the Olympic Games can still be seen and felt everywhere in the station," Chen said.

For Chen, whether it be the Winter Olympics or the high-speed rail, they all symbolize China's growing national strength. "As a railway worker, I have a dream that when I retire in the future, I can take high-speed trains to travel around the country, and even around the world," she concluded.

But for now, with chunyun still in full swing, duty calls.

Printed edition title: Duty Calls  

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

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