Holidays for most but Metro drivers happy to serve the public during Spring Festival

While most residents enjoy the Spring Festival holiday, a group of people still works, including Metro train drivers, ensuring that the city's essential services are functioning.
Holidays for most but Metro drivers happy to serve the public during Spring Festival

Pang Sheng, a Metro Line 2 driver, works the controls and makes the "all is safe" sign as he brings the subway train into a station for a stop.

For most Chinese, Spring Festival means a welcome weeklong break from work. But where would we be if everyone took a holiday?

On the eve of the Chinese New Year, when families are home for the traditional holiday feast, Metro Line 2 driver Pang Sheng will be clocking into just another shift.

“It is not a big deal,” he said. “Thousands of people work during the holiday to keep the city running. I am just a cog in the machinery.”

In his early 30s, Pang has been driving a Metro train for 10 years. He normally works two 10-hour shifts over two days and then gets a two-day rest. Last November, Pang chalked up a career record of 200,000 kilometers of accident-free driving, earning himself a medal.

“My job is easy because the direction and speed of the train are computer controlled,” said Pang, who talks with a slight stutter. “But the job requires patience and dedication. I’m responsible for all on board the train.”

As the city’s Metro system keeps evolving, the trains are mostly controlled by a complicated but accurate signal system. The main job for drivers in the cabin is to monitor the operation and ensure that everything is running smoothly and to spring into action if any emergency arises.

The drivers are required to step out of the train at every stop to make sure everything is safe and carriage doors are closing as they should.

Sometimes when a train breaks down and stops, the driver needs to go into manual mode.

Pang uses the word “delicate” to describe his job. He is a shy man who becomes more animated the more he talks about his work.

“It seems mechanized,” said Pang, “but when you are focused on the job, it’s not boring.”

At a meeting before Pang’s shift, group leader Qian Jiang tells the group about a driver on another line who was caught snoozing in his train cabin. Pang frowned and took down some notes.

“It isn’t funny,” said an annoyed Pang. “How can one fall asleep knowing he is at the wheel of a train carrying hundreds of people?”

Because the drivers do back-to-back shifts in a row, they have only up to five hours to sleep before starting work again.

Qian said sometimes drivers do get overly tired. Metro Line 2 used to have 70 people on the night shift from 4pm to 1am, but the number has been reduced to 64.

It takes an hour for a Line 2 train to run its full course from the Xujing East Station in suburban Minhang District to Guanglan Road in the Pudong New Area.

Shanghai’s Metro system is the largest of its kind in the world. Sixteen Metro lines span 666 kilometers with 352 stations. Two more lines — the second and third phases of Line 13 and the Pujiang Line — will begin operation this year.

“The workload will get heavier once new lines come into service,” said Qian. “We are short of qualified new drivers, and we have to dispatch some from our existing crews to the new lines.”

On February 8, Pang got up before 4am and went down to work, where he first inspected all carriage doors and valves in the train.

“There are 60 valves, and every single one of them must be checked before the train leaves,” Pang said.

After his shift, Pang said he planned to rest at home and spend time with his daughter, who turned one last November. He said his job would be more difficult without the strong support of his family.

“They never complain about my hours,” said Pang. “Though I can’t celebrate Chinese New Year with my family, but every time I sit with them, I rejoice in my own celebration.”

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