A train from Vietnam passes the China-Vietnam border in Hekou county, Southwest China’s Yunnan Province in 2018. Photo: IC

On a baking hot summer morning at the depot of Vietnam’s first urban railway in its capital, Hanoi, young Vietnamese drivers took turns getting on and off a green and silver electric train to check whether it had been docked safely with another train on the same track.

The workers, whose shirts were darkened by drops of sweat, were driver trainees of the Cat Linh-Ha Dong urban railway constructed by the China Railway Sixth Group. They were participating in an operational drill with other urban railway staff to ensure its smooth and safe commercial operation in the near future.

The operational drill, jointly held by the China Railway Sixth Group and Shenzhen Metro, started in early May and will last until early June with a total of 21 rehearsals, including those for large passenger flow management, rescue of failed trains and emergency response at stations with the participation of some 160 Vietnamese trainees.

“It is very hot, but we are willing to sweat for passengers’ safety and comfort,” Kieu Tien Dung, one of the Vietnamese driver trainees, said after the rehearsal, adding that he felt proud of being a driver of the country’s first urban railway.

In the operational drill, a train suddenly fails, lying idle on the track, and drivers need to use another train to approach the faulty one and dock them to tow the failed train away for maintenance as quickly as possible.

Dung, a 27-year-old graduate of Vietnam’s University of Transport and Communications, said he had studied electric train theory and practice in Beijing with other Vietnamese trainees, and now they were reviewing their lessons during these rehearsals.

“In Beijing, we began with driving simulators, then moved to real trains in real life. After passing exams and getting our certificates, we are back home for more training and practice, ready to become drivers for the first urban railway in Vietnam,” he said with a smile.

Dung said he wants to master more advanced train-related technologies and techniques so that he can drive on the urban railways in Vietnam with the maximum level of safety, and also convey what he has acquired in Beijing to younger drivers.

“I want the Cat Linh-Ha Dong railway to become operational soon to help reduce traffic congestion in Hanoi,” Dung said, casting his eyes to the brand-new trains in the depot.

Not far from the depot, in the railway’s Operating Control Center in Ha Dong district, Dung’s colleague Dinh Thien Vuong was tentatively driving a simulator that resembled a real train locomotive at the depot, with a big screen in front of the driver showing moving images of vivid Hanoi scenery along the track.

The simulator can not only be used to practice driving skills, but also can provide Vuong and his colleagues all kinds of scenarios they might encounter in future work, from a waterlogged track after heavy rains to a simulated fire alarm on the platform. When an “obstacle” appeared on the screen, Vuong tried to solve it as he was taught in Beijing. A Chinese instructor stayed with him and was ready to answer his questions via an interpreter.

“Recently, we have been practicing driving skills on this simulator as well as on real trains,” Vuong said. The man, a father of two, said that the Chinese side has prepared its training programs very well.

“Urban railway is a new sector in Vietnam. It will develop in the future. We drivers have made efforts to master the technologies and now we can drive the electricity-powered trains fairly well,” said Vuong.

While drivers have to stage different scenarios on the track and in the train to ensure they can rapidly and effectively handle emergencies, staff at each station of the urban railway also rehearsed possible scenarios – for example, how to deal with a sudden passenger surge during rush hours.

At Van Quan Station, Vu Thi Cuc, traffic controller trainee of the Cat Linh-Ha Dong urban railway, was quickly adapting her role as the exchange center for a huge amount of information and orders. Holding a telephone receiver in her left hand and moving a computer mouse with her right, her eyes were glued to a monitoring screen full of real-time images fed by more than 20 surveillance cameras in the station.

Cuc and dozens of other staff trainees were partaking in a rehearsal for managing large passenger flow. 

If too many passengers flock to the station, Cuc and her colleagues must calmly conduct procedures according to the levels of congestion, like guiding passengers for a quick exit, calling the control center to send more trains or changing the settings of elevators and turnstiles to avoid congestion.

All need to be practiced repeatedly to ensure tacit cooperation between different posts.

“The training of Vietnamese urban railway trainees began in 2014, spanning China and Vietnam and going through four stages, with this drill as a test of training results,” said Meng Qiuxuan, deputy director of the Materials and Equipment Department of the Overseas Branch of the China Railway Sixth Group.

The 13-kilometer Cat Linh-Ha Dong elevated railway, which runs through 12 stations in three districts, overlaps with some of the busiest routes in Hanoi. It was widely expected to ease the growing rush hour traffic jam in the capital city of more than 9.6 million people, most of whom drive motorbikes for daily commuting.

“I’m eager to experience this urban railway myself, not only as a staff member but also as a passenger,” Cuc said. “It is the first of its kind in Hanoi as well as in Vietnam. Besides solving traffic congestion, public transportation like this urban railway helps reduce pollution and is good for the environment.”

Newspaper headline: Vietnam trains for success