Tram drivers among unsung heroes of the city

Tan Weiyun
A tram driver's daily routine might seem repetitive, but for former military serviceman Xu Kailong, each day along his route comes with new adventures.
Tan Weiyun
Tram drivers among unsung heroes of the city

Xu Kailong, a tram driver, prepares for his shift during the day.

The hum of the tram and the bustling streets of Songjiang are familiar sights and sounds for Xu Kailong, a tram driver. A former military serviceman who transitioned to civilian life in 2016, Xu chose a path less traveled, dedicating himself to the safe transportation of the city's residents.

"When I swapped my military uniform for the tram driver's seat, I knew I was starting a new chapter," Xu said. "This tram isn't just a vehicle; it's a symbol of the city's pulse, and I'm honored to be a part of it."

A driver's daily routine might seem repetitive, but to him, each day is a new adventure. "Yes, the route is the same, but the people and their stories are always different. I feel privileged to be a part of their daily lives, even if it's just for a short journey," he said.

Xu's day begins with the first light of dawn, a testament to his commitment. While the city sleeps, he and his team are already gearing up for the day, ensuring everything runs smoothly. Despite the demands of his job, Xu finds joy and pride in the work. "Our holidays are often spent on the tracks, but knowing we're helping people get to where they need to be is incredibly fulfilling," he added.

Tram drivers, unlike their counterparts in other forms of public transportation, have a unique aspect to their job. Passengers might have noticed that tram drivers often use a variety of hand gestures while driving. "This is because the tram's dedicated signal lights operate inversely to the standard traffic lights at intersections, which can sometimes lead to confusion during operation," Xu said.

Tram drivers among unsung heroes of the city

Xu Kailong gestures at signal lights to ensure safety.

To mitigate any potential issues, tram drivers employ a dual-confirmation approach. In addition to visually confirming signals, they also use hand gestures as an additional layer of assurance, which serves as a double check, reinforcing their attention and ensuring flawless operation of the tram.

"It requires a keen eye and constant focus to manage the signals," Xu said. "It's all about being vigilant and ensuring every journey is safe."

A single journey on the tram typically lasts about an hour and a half. During this time, attending to personal needs such as using the restroom can be particularly challenging. As a result, even if Xu carries water with him, he often refrains from drinking too much to avoid the need for bathroom breaks.

"My passengers' safety is always in my mind. It's a responsibility I take very seriously," Xu said.

The driver's connection to the city deepens as he observes its continuous development. He has noticed that the landscapes along his tram route are silently transforming every day. To him, the city feels like a living entity, continuously growing and evolving.

"Witnessing these changes daily makes me realize how vibrant and alive our city is, and every day, I grow along with it," he said, feeling like being a part of the city's own story, which is constantly unfolding.

A day of a Songjiang tram driver starts early, with those on the morning shift waking up at 3am to prepare for the first tram departure at 4am. Similarly, those working the late shift don't finish until midnight, often returning home to find their families already asleep.

Most of their holidays, including significant times like the Spring Festival when families traditionally gather, are spent on duty.

"Working odd hours, especially during festivals like the Lunar New Year, means I miss out on family time. It's tough, but the support of my family and the gratitude of my passengers make it worthwhile," he said.

Xu finds solace in the small gestures of appreciation from his passengers. "A simple 'thank you' or a nod of recognition goes a long way. It's these moments that remind me of the impact of my work," he said with a sense of pride.

In Xu's eyes, his role as a tram driver is akin to being a caretaker of the community. "I see myself as more than a driver; I'm a part of these people's lives. Whether it's getting them to work on time or bringing them home safely, it's a role I cherish," he said.

The dedication of Xu and his colleagues doesn't go unnoticed. They are the unsung heroes of the city, ensuring that life in Songjiang runs seamlessly. They might not be in the spotlight, but in their own way, they're helping to keep the city moving. "That's something I'm incredibly proud of," Xu said.

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