Railway worker follows in family’s footsteps, protecting travelers

World Today

The Spring Festival travel rush puts a huge strain on China’s railways. Few people are aware of the hard work that goes into ensuring the trains run smoothly – and safely.

CGTN’s Cui Hui’ao spoke with one maintenance worker who, despite the tough conditions, remains dedicated to his job.

Most people are already tucking themselves into bed at 11PM. But for Meng Xianpeng, a railway maintenance worker, his day has just begun.

“We work at night – during what we call the ‘time window’ – when the trains are not operating,” he said. “Our job is to fix problems and prevent safety hazards.”

Every day, Meng and his team have a meeting to go through the specific tasks of the day, which normally entail things like changing a deformed bolt, measuring the height of the overhead line system, and removing little ice drops on the track.

During this time of year, northeast China is unbearably cold. Meng and his team walk an average of 20 kilometers per night along the railroad. Beyond battling the cold, conquering fear is another challenge for Meng.

“I fear a lot when I am climbing the 26-meter-high electric pole and having to stay up there for two hours,” he said. “The cold weather makes it even worse. My gloves sometimes stick to the pole because it is too cold up there. And my heart always beats really fast. Each time it is like torture.”

Cold and danger are not the only hardships of this job. A drastically different work schedule than what most people have is another. Meng gets off work around six in the morning, when his wife Fang Tongtong is just getting up and about to start her day. Fang said she barely sees her husband.

“We got married last year and frankly we fight a lot about his job,” she said.

“I remember last summer, he was not home for an entire week because there was flooding. I didn’t talk to him that week because I was upset with his job. Sometimes he receives an emergency call and leaves in the middle of the dinner.”

Fang is trying to convince her husband to quit this job, take up a new career, anything that’s less intense. Or she said they could move to Beijing, where they first met, and start a small business together.

But the 31-year-old is not ready to leave his job yet.

“I’ve been working as a maintenance worker for 8 years,” Meng explained. “Both my dad and grandpa were railway workers.”

“It’s like a family thing and I am passing it on from them. Also I feel a lot of responsibility on my part especially during Chinese New Year when there is a big surge in the number of passengers taking our train. It is my job to make their travel safe.”