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High-speed train operator can't get enough

By LUO WANGSHU | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-10-01 08:06
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Wang Haitao operates a train on the Beijing-Zhangjiakou Highspeed Railway. [Photo/China Daily]

When Wang Haitao was told he'd be operating the bullet train on its maiden trip along the newly opened Beijing-Zhangjiakou High-speed Railway on Dec 30, 2019, the then 27-year-old train driver was thrilled.

"It was on short notice, only a few days ahead of the line's scheduled opening," he said, adding that he felt excited and a bit nervous.

Wang spent his remaining days repeatedly running through details of the operation to make every move as perfect as possible.

The Beijing-Zhangjiakou High-speed Railway, which can run at speeds of up to 350 kilometers per hour, is China's most advanced smart high-speed railway, a landmark project that embodies the highest technology in high-speed railway construction.

It was also a vital transport link during the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

"After all, it was a difficult and important task," he said.

It was the driver's first career jackpot, one he earned through effort, practice and some luck. Becoming a train driver had never been Wang's dream job, although his father is a freight train technician, at his mother's insistence, he followed in his father's footprints.

He applied to a railway technical and vocational college in Tianjin and joined the China Railway Beijing Group after graduating in 2013.

His talent as a driver has been noted since.

After three years of practical training, Wang became a diesel locomotive operator in 2016. A year later, he passed the tests to become an electric locomotive operator and a bullet train driver.

Wang pays attention to detail to ensure the careful operation of his trains.

A smooth, comfortable ride requires the driver to think carefully about every corner on the route. For example, when and how to apply traction and brakes all matter, he said.

The data on the display doesn't determine the experience of the ride, and it is up to the driver to differentiate.

Wang said that a good driver has to be familiar with the route, the type of train and the weather.

"I was lucky and maybe made a little more effort to get chosen for the post," he said.

Despite his humility, Wang's talent as a driver became apparent a long time ago.

Asked about the similarities between playing video games and driving trains, Wang agreed that both require quick wits and the ability to press different buttons simultaneously.

"I am pretty good at playing video games," he said. "The first and most basic quality of a driver is the ability to respond quickly because they must deal with unexpected situations along the route."

Responsibility and the ability to deal with hardship are also essential qualities for being a good bullet train driver, he added, saying that the job comes with heavy responsibility.

"Safety is always the top priority," he said, adding that drivers are required to be vigilant throughout the journey.

To prevent themselves from falling asleep as a result of continuously staring ahead, drivers are required to step on a pedal every 30 seconds. If they fail to do so, an alarm rings and the train may come to a halt.

It is hard work, as working hours are constantly changing, with shifts sometimes starting at 3 am or 11 pm.

In China, bullet train drivers are required to rest after a shift. They have to hand over their mobile phones and return to a dedicated apartment to rest.

"There is nothing to do but sleep," Wang said.

Despite this, Wang said he enjoys his job.

He has been promoted to an instructor and teaches a dozen other drivers, but he still takes the driver's seat on important trips, such as for the opening and closing ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

"I can't stop driving trains," he said.

Wang is aware of the historic importance of the Beijing-Zhangjiakou railway, which was first opened in 1909. It was the first railway built in China without foreign assistance. While his job is on the new high-speed line, he hopes one day to visit the original line and some of its stations to pay his respects to the railway's pioneers.

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