China / Cover Story

Xinjiang gets up to speed

By Zhao Lei (China Daily) Updated: 2014-06-12 06:53

Two weeks ago, during a speech at a top-level conference to discuss issues related to the region, President Xi Jinping said the regional authorities must make boosting employment level their top priority. He urged officials to help residents improve their skill bases to help them find jobs or start their own businesses. Speaking at the same conference, Premier Li Keqiang said employment is one of the biggest concerns for people in Xinjiang.

Xinjiang gets up to speed
Zulhumar Tursun (right), 22, is one of 28 attendants that will serve passengers on the new high-speed line. [JIANG WENYAO / XINHUA]

Getting on the right track

Adi Turdi, the first bullet train driver in China from the Uygur ethnic group, said his daughter will be among the passengers on the maiden journey of Xinjiang's bullet train.

"I will buy my 4-year-old daughter a ticket to take the train once the line is put into use. As far as I know, people from all of Xinjiang's ethnic groups are waiting excitedly for the line to come into operation," the 34-year-old said.

"My family is very happy and proud that I will be the first Uygur to drive a bullet train," he said.

The Urumqi Railway Bureau selected a team of 12 drivers to participate in tests of the Lanzhou-Xinjiang high-speed railway - Adi Turdi is one of two drivers from the ethnic groups, the other being a man from the Kazak ethnic group.

The drivers had to undergo stringent tests to qualify for the job. "We had our eyesight, hearing and hearts checked, as well as our psychological condition, because the requirements for bullet train drivers are higher than those for operators of lower-speed trains," Adi Turdi said, adding that he has driven more than 573,000 kilometers in various trains without an accident.

"We traveled to Beijing to attend interviews and training courses," he said.

Before joining the bullet train team, he worked on the Urumqi-to-Hami line, where the trains travel at 140 km per hour.

"Compared with ordinary trains, bullet trains provide a much more comfortable working environment and a lighter workload, so I feel quite satisfied with the job."

Dilidar Abudula, 25, a train attendant, said the bureau employed her after she graduated from Xinjiang Arts University. "I am one of the first Uygur university graduates to join the railway sector," she said.

"I love this job because, considering a lot of people have never visited the region before, the attendants are likely to be the first Xinjiang people the passengers will have met. My smile will be their first impression of Xinjiang. I think that's amazing," she said.

But being the face of Xinjiang is never an easy job, according to another attendant, Zulhumar Tursun, 22. "We were chosen from the nearly 5,000 attendants in Xinjiang who applied for posts on the bullet train," she said. "Applicants need to be 166 to 174 centimeters tall and the desired weight ranges from 52 to 58 kilograms."

The successful applicants were sent to Shijiazhuang in Hebei province and Nanjing in Jiangsu province to undertake monthlong internships on high-speed lines.

Zulhumar Tursun said she gets on well with all of her colleagues. "There are Uygurs, Hui and Han in my nine-member team and we are like a family."

So far, 28 attendants have been chosen to work on the new line, according to Li Yan, a senior manager in charge of passenger services at the bureau.

The number of attendants from ethnic groups will be increased, he said, and a second group is now undergoing training in Shijiazhuang.

Wang Jibei, the head of the attendants, said all the staff on the train have received training in emergency response, safety procedures, and anti-terrorist measures.

"That will mean we're able to handle all possible contingencies, and the passengers can rest assured that their journeys in Xinjiang will be safe and comfortable," she said.

By Zhao Lei in Urumqi

New jobs

"We will spare no efforts to take advantage of the new line and create new jobs. It will be one of our concrete measures to honor the central government's pledge," Lai said, adding that the logistics industry will also benefit from the new line.

"The high-speed line will serve to transport passengers, thus relieving the heavy burden on the old Lanzhou-Xinjiang line, and enabling the latter to focus on freight transport," he said, explaining that currently most of the cargo to and from Xinjiang is transported by truck, resulting in higher costs for both businesses and purchasers.

"Almost all the vendors doing business on Taobao or other online shopping websites ask buyers in Xinjiang to pay a delivery fee, which is not the case for customers in many other parts of China," Lai said.

"That's because the costs of transporting freight to Xinjiang are usually higher. The improvement in rail transport capacity will help resolve the problem and will be beneficial to both businesses and buyers," he said, adding that the line will be extended farther west at a later date.

Erkin Tuniyaz, vice-chairman of the regional government, contemplated the larger picture: "The line will greatly improve Xinjiang's transport capabilities to the Central Asian and European countries, and strengthen its role as a transport hub along the Silk Road Economic Belt."

In a speech in Kazakhstan in September, President Xi proposed the construction of a "Silk Road Economic Belt", a modern-day equivalent of the ancient trading route known as the Silk Road, as a way of developing political and economic ties with China's neighbors, and accelerating the development of the country's western regions. The proposal is being studied, but as yet, there is no timetable for the route to come into being.

Advanced techniques

During the test run on June 3, the train exceeded its maximum operational speed, attaining 279 kph at one point and averaging 275 kph, according to Wu Ning, from the China Academy of Railway Sciences who helped to monitor the trial.

According to La Youyu, who led the construction of the Xinjiang section of the line, the remarkable speeds are a tribute to the achievements of the engineers in overcoming the strong winds that have long troubled rail operators in China.

La said the new line traverses five major wind-ravaged sections, which total 580 km in length, and explained that wind speeds in a section known as the Baili Windy Area can reach 60 meters per second.

"The Baili Windy Area is 170 km long. We have found that the winds in the area can hit Force Eight on the Beaufort scale (between 62 and 74 kph) on more than 200 days every year, greatly affecting the train's stability," he said.

The engineers devised a number of methods to handle the effect of the wind, such as the construction of windproof and dust-suppressing walls along the line. They also constructed a 1,200-m-long archway in the middle section of the Baili Windy Area.

According to La, the entire length of the windproof infrastructure is 462 km. "We estimate that without the walls, operations would have to be suspended as often as 60 times a year. These walls will reduce the number of suspensions to about 10 a year by enabling the train to travel safely despite winds as strong as 13 on the Beaufort scale," he said.

Liu Xinle, director of construction management with the Urumqi Railway Bureau, said the high winds weren't the only problems that faced the engineers, who also had to factor wide variations in temperature into their calculations.

"The highest temperature, in Turpan, is close to 50 C, while in Urumqi it can fall as low as -41 C. These extreme changes can seriously affect the condition of the railbeds and tracks, so we employed special techniques to treat the concrete," he said.

Liu said that about 90 percent of the line's infrastructure has already been tested, and trials will be conducted on the rest of the track in July.

Trials of the Lanzhou-Xining section will begin in August, and tests on the Xining-Xinjiang section will start in September.

La said the construction teams worked hard to protect the local environment. Bridges were built above the subterranean water networks in Turpan and the wetlands in Dabancheng so the landscape won't be affected by the rail tracks. Meanwhile, all vehicles that transported construction materials traveled along fixed routes on wetlands and grasslands to minimize the environmental impact.

In April, Sheng Guangzu, general manager of China Railway Corp, said that 78 percent of the construction investment in 2014 would be plowed into work on the country's central and western regions, where 86 percent of the new railways that will begin operations this year are located.

According to a Five-Year Plan (2011-15) formulated by the former Ministry of Railways, 23,000 kilometers of new lines will be built in the central and western regions, with investment of 1.85 trillion yuan.

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