Safe­guard­ing the power sup­ply in a no man’s land

China Daily (Canada) - - XINJIANG - By XIN­HUA in Urumqi

Deserts and snow- capped moun­tains, hail and sand­storms — this is the bleak, des­o­late district of Da­bancheng in Urumqi. Yang Wen­ping is in charge of a sec­tion of elec­tric lines here, in the far west of the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion. De­spite be­ing hundreds of miles away from the near­est pop­u­lated area, mil­lions of peo­ple’s lives de­pend on Yang.

In De­cem­ber 2014, the first high­speed rail­way in Xin­jiang started op­er­a­tion, greatly re­duc­ing travel times be­tween Urumqi and Lanzhou, the capital of neigh­bor­ing Gansu prov­ince.

To guar­an­tee the rail­way’s smooth op­er­a­tion, ex­pe­ri­enced tech­ni­cians, in­clud­ing Yang, were dis­patched to main­tain the rail­way’s power trans­mis­sion lines.

By the end of this month, Yang will have been pa­trolling the rail­way for al­most two years. Un­der his watch, the Da­bancheng sec­tion has never had any power out­ages.

Over that time he has de­vel­oped a unique skill — he taps the trans­mis­sion tow­ers with a stone and by lis­ten­ing to the sound they make, he is able to pin­point the ex­act po­si­tion of a loose screw. It’s a skill few tech­ni­cians have been able to master, ac­cord­ing to Yang’s col­leagues.

“I have been do­ing this job for 23 years — all of it is pa­trolling and check­ing on the lines and tow­ers. No big deal,” Yang said.

The five tow­ers un­der Yang’s care are just five kilo­me­ters apart as the crow flies, but the in­hos­pitable ter­rain means that he has to walk more than 1,000 km be­tween them each year.

Liu Wen, one of Yang’s ap­pren­tices, said the tech­ni­cians, who carry 6 kilo­grams tool bags, have to take a cir­cuitous 15 km route to reach all five tow­ers.

The re­gion’s change­able weather only serves to make the job more dif­fi­cult. When the earth on the slopes starts to thaw in spring, the slip­pery ground and loose stones make nav­i­gat­ing ex­tremely treach­er­ous and just one mis­judged step could be dis­as­trous. In sum­mer, the sun beats down on the parched desert floor and tem­per­a­tures can hit 50 C.

Yet of all the weather the tech­ni­cians have to con­tend with, the wind is by far the worst. Sand­storms can oc­cur sud­denly, whip­ping up fine sand that stings the skin and eyes. Yang was once trapped in the desert for 10 hours be­cause of a sand­storm so fe­ro­cious that he could barely see his hands in front of his face.

At the end of one pa­trol, five huge dogs sud­denly set upon us — we were lucky that our ve­hi­cle was nearby.”

In re­sponse, Yang and his team have de­vel­oped some novel ways of pre­dict­ing the sever­ity of an in­com­ing weather front.

“If there is heavy wind, we first lean on a power pole, cover our hands with our hel­mets and stand fac­ing the wind. If the wind cre­ates a con­tin­u­ous sound like ‘ da da da’ on the hel­met, it means a high wind is com­ing. This is a warn­ing to us — we must get back to base as soon as pos­si­ble,” said Zhang Yanzhe, an­other of Yang’s ap­pren­tices.

An­other threat to the tech­ni­cians’ safety comes from the wild an­i­mals that prowl the area.

“At the end of one pa­trol, five huge dogs sud­denly set upon us — we were lucky that our ve­hi­cle was nearby,” Liu said.

In to­tal, 37 tech­ni­cians in­clud­ing Yang work side by side, day and night, main­tain­ing more than 11,300 trans­mis­sion tow­ers in Xin­jiang that stretch over 2,380 km.

Nor­mally, they will ask to trans­fer to an­other post af­ter work­ing in the same area for sev­eral years. But Yang is happy to stay, as he thinks that the more time he spends there, the more ex­pe­ri­ence he will gain and the more valu­able he will be as a worker.

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