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05/04/2020 - 07:44

Railroad patrolling at Hai Van Gate

“The train is coming. Please stand close to the wall. Cover your ears if the noise is too loud for you. It will be quick.” The warning for patrolmen of the tunnel through Hai Van Pass was repeated, reminding us, those who followed patrolmen for the first time to the “mysterious" place, to be careful.

A patrolman is walking along the railroad line in the tunnel at the foot of Hai Van Pass

After more than one minute, the roaring sounds of the quickly-passing train were fading, leaving behind a pitch-black night. What remained was just the glimmer of light of the patrolmen like the inner sound of loneliness amid the deep forest...

On a patrol tour at night

The first tunnel marked No. 9, viewed from Northern Hai Van

After the hasty lunch at the guard station adjacent to the romantic beach of Lang Co, the tunnel patrol Tran Huu Tuan gave us some instructions before taking us with him on his work shift.

“The road is rough with scattered soil and rock. You guys please walk slowly if you are not used to it. Be careful not to stumble,” advised the 50-year-old patrolman with over 20 years of working in railroad and 7 years as a patrolman at Hai Van Pass.

The patrolman Tran Huu Tuấn is examining the Tunnel No.9

Before entering the tunnel, Tuấn put on the head flashlight and took out a hammer from his specialized bag worn on his body and started his routine work. The loud sounds of the hammer hitting the railroad line echoed before fading, which had become familiar. From those sounds, the patrolman could diagnose what was wrong with iron bars.

Putting the flashlight close to a screw and hitting it with the hammer, Tuấn said: “This screw is loose. It needs tightening.” Hundreds of screws on the line going through the 169-meter-long tunnel were carefully cared for by this patrolman. The hammer dropped; the sounds were heard. From his experience, the patrolman knew which sleepers were about to be broken and which rail bases were rotten.

“Not all damage can be fixed immediately. The minor damage is mended at once. As for the serious damage, I have to report it to the unit so that it would send people to assist,” said Tuấn when he spotted a rotten rail base which needed to be changed urgently.

As soon as he stepped out of the tunnel with his face covered with sweat, before he could take a drink, he pulled out the phone and immediately called the unit. "Ensuring safety for the train is the most important thing for us,” said Tuấn.

Railroad workers at Hai Van Pass

From Tunnel No. 9 toward south to Da Nang, the railroad at the foot of Hai Van Pass became winding and dangerous, but the view was so grand and poetic. The biting wind from mountains merged with the sound of the vast ocean.

The long winding train was moving very slowly. From a distance, we saw patrolmen and railroad workers quietly examining each wooden sleeper and iron bar, parts of the railroad line.

Tunnel No. 14, then Tunnel No. 13 made their appearance. Few people understood what quiet workers were doing in the “dark at day.” Their attentive and tense faces in the dim light had become a familiar sight. 

Destiny

“Oh my God, what are you doing here? Anyway, you should take the opportunity to look around. It is so poetic. You can take photos of the French-styled arch bridges. Very beautiful,” said a worker who was tightening the screws in surprise. 

That was right. It was a precious chance for us to meet one another in the midst of mountains and winds. They told all sorts of things, about how they missed their wives and children. “There are no women and children here, just men.”

About 200 meters from North Hai Van Station, there was a barrier nestling amid thick bushes. Sitting inside, the young man Hồ Công Tuần was listening to special railroad signals reporting about a certain problem, hence, he would not let the freight train which was waiting there depart.

Tuần was 31 and he had worked in the railroad for 5 years. But this was the first year he worked at this toughest and most difficult section of the railroad line running through Vietnam.

His duty was to record schedules, make announcement, and regulate the train according to the directions he received from higher levels. Tuần’s best friend at this guard station was the hammock. Whenever he had free time, he swayed himself, beholding clouds on the sky. In front of him was the sea and behind him were mountains. 

“I am sometimes very busy, sometimes free. But when I am free, I feel sad because I keep thinking about my wife and children in my hometown Hai Lang, Quang Tri. Twice a month, I ask for permission to go home to visit them,” said he. He thought he was lucky enough because there were many people who were still single.

The story suddenly became exciting when a person passed by. He was Tuấn. "There, there, Tuấn is an example. He is now 36, but hasn’t got a girlfriend yet,” said Tuần.

Tuấn was dumbfounded. He did not know what to say but laughed out loud: “Oh, it is my destiny. I don’t know what to do. In the future, I will marry someone who loves and understands me. If not, I can live happily here in the jungle with wild birds.”

Born in Ngoc Lac, Thanh Hoa, Tuấn had attached himself with Central Vietnam for more than ten years. His duty was maintaining and taking care of the information for the railroad. South Hai Van Railway Station, Hai Van Peak Station and North Hai Van Railway Station were his home. 

“I work at the south station this week, then the other week at north station, all amid jungles.  But I get used to it. Time passes without knowing,” said Tuấn in his sagging voice.

The work was dull, but according to Tuấn, at least with his current salary, if he did not waste money, he could save some to send to his parents in the countryside. For nearly all people working in this important railroad line including Tuấn and Tuần, families were their support. 

Trains kept on running through Hai Van Pass, carrying eager and curious passengers in front of the grandeur of landscape, leaving behind quiet railroad workers amid mountains and forests.

“The railroad line must be through at any cost.”

The North-South railroad section at the foot of Hai Van Mountain is about 20 km long, but there are up to 6 tunnels. Though they are on land of Thua Thien Hue, they are managed by Quang Nam-Danang Railroad Joint-Stock Company.

According to Mr. Nguyen Minh Nga, Deputy Head of Hai Van Subdivision, Quang Nam-Da Nang Railroad Joint-Stock Company, only those who love their jobs can work here. The daily work is hard, but even more difficult in months of rain and floods. 

Problems occur mainly because of landslides or derailment. This railroad line has been exploited for too long, which leads to unpredictable problems. 

Whenever things occur, immediately the train is stopped and all the people in the unit are sent to resolve it. If the accident is so serious and out of control, we call for the support from the company with specialized and modern equipment. The train must be able to run as soon as possible because this is the essential railroad line. 

“In some years, we encountered so many difficulties due to natural disasters. The train could not run. Psychologically speaking, working here, everyone is prepared to face any difficulties in all circumstances and harsh conditions,” asserted Nga.

Story and photos: Phan Thanh

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