'Tunnel guards' keep Tibet line safe

LHASA-"K249+502; K166+700 …" In a dark tunnel on the Lhasa-Nyingchi Railway, Rinchen Tsering writes a raft of numbers on the back of his left hand under the faint light of his cap-lamp.

The 36-year-old from southwestern China's Tibet autonomous region has been a railway worker for 15 years. The numbers are his "security codes", indicating the maintenance conditions of bridge and tunnel equipment.

The codes mark the locations of tunnel problems such as cracks, cavities and water seepage. Rinchen Tsering said "K249" is the number of kilometers corresponding to the bridge and tunnel section, and "+502" refers to a specific location with a problem.

The back of his left hand looks much rougher than his right due to the long-term recording of codes.

"It's convenient to write them on the hand because I can see it with my head down," he said.

The main line of the Lhasa-Nyingchi Railway, Tibet's first electrified railway, stretches for 435 km. With complex geological conditions, 75 percent of the line comprises bridges and tunnels.

The Gyaca bridge and tunnel area, where Rinchen Tsering and his team work, includes 33 bridges and 18 tunnels. It accounts for 46.9 percent of the total length of tunnels along the railway.

Rinchen Tsering is the leader of a group of "tunnel guards". With an average age of less than 25, they are responsible for the maintenance and repair of equipment on 137 km of track.

At the Lengda No 2 bridge above the Yarlung Zangbo River, Zhao Haoze, a young tunnel guard wearing a bright yellow safety vest, opens the cover plate at the entrance of the hanging fence under the bridge deck.

Zhao climbs down slowly from the safety ladder, loosening and buckling a strap latch each step down the ladder until he lands safely, and then begins to check the anti-seismic piles, bearings, and supporting pad stones in the fence.

"They write down what they learn every day in a small notebook as their codes," Rinchen Tsering said.

From 10 pm to 6 am, tunnel guards have to endure temperatures as low as -10 C. In the dim light of their cap-lamps, they check and repair every joint and drainage cover plate along the line and spot hidden dangers that may affect its safety.

China Railway Qinghai-Tibet Group handled 11.8 million passenger trips last year, up 12.3 percent year-on-year, and 37 million metric tons of freight, up 1.2 percent.

The Lhasa-Nyingchi Railway, which opened in June, had transported 621,000 passengers and more than 7,900 tons of goods by the end of last year.