He Xiaoling, a specialist in tunnel maintenance and emergency rescue with Shanghai Tunnel Engineering Co., Ltd (STEC), has served as a delegate to both the 19th and 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The special honor of serving as a CPC delegate for two consecutive meetings has bolstered her confidence, and her determination in the workplace. She has stressed her additional confidence and determination has come from the rapid development of the country's rail transportation, people's rising sense of fulfillment, and people's aspirations for a bright future.
He is a technical expert and head of a tunnel-maintenance-services team with STEC. She says her father was a tunnel engineer, and he participated in the building of the Dapu Road Tunnel, China's first river-crossing tunnel, in the 1960s. Only after she began her career in the sector did she fully understand what her father did — and felt proud of his profession.
Construction of the Dapu Road Tunnel set a milestone in Shanghai's traffic history, as it allowed people to drive vehicles across the Huangpu River for the first time.
The length of Shanghai's metro network exceeds 800 kilometers — the longest for a municipality in the world. The number of subway lines under the technical maintenance of He and her teammates has expanded from two to six, equivalent to nearly half of the city's metro length.
During the past three decades, He and her team have acted like cardiovascular specialists, constantly on standby to conduct thorough examinations of any hidden safety risks, and to ensure the smooth operation of the subway lines.
From Rookie to Expert
He became a grassroots technician with STEC after she graduated from the former Shanghai University of Science and Technology (today's Shanghai University) in 1993.
During her first two years with STEC, He stayed in the office and participated in scientific research. Later, she volunteered to transfer to the construction department, so she could get involved in tunnel maintenance, with emphasis on the prevention of subsidence and leakage. She found that it was of greater importance to promote the application of research findings in construction.
Since then, He and her colleagues have been preoccupied with regular inspections and repair work in the tunnels, working from midnight until the early morning, to guarantee the safe journey of all passengers.
Only three people worked with He at the very beginning. Back then, they often had to transport construction materials and equipment by hand, so as not to disturb the normal operation of the subway platforms and lines. Sometimes, they would be required to work in a humid environment, even for more than 10 consecutive hours.
He moved to Shenzhen, in South China's Guangdong Province, in the 1990s, to help the city build its subway network. At that time, she was the only woman working on the construction site, and she showed no fear of performing any challenging work, even in the tunnels, which were more than 10 meters underground.
Subway Safety Guardian
He was put in charge of STEC's department of tunnel maintenance and emergency rescue in 2005. A year later, He's team started to undertake maintenance of the No. 6 subway line in Shanghai.
During Shanghai Expo 2010, He led her team, on the nightshift, in ensuring the smooth operation of all subway lines under the team's control.
He emphasized that it was of the utmost significance they gather rich experience and take innovate measures to accomplish construction of different subway lines, in accordance with specific conditions.
For instance, during a regular inspection tour, He discovered a stream of quicksand in a tunnel section, and she immediately took measures to prevent an accident.
Many more examples help to showcase He's high-level professional techniques and rigorous work style, which have played a vital role in the prevention of many safety accidents.
He has worked closely with her teammates to tackle the global problem of tunnel subsidence in soft-soil conditions, with independent technological breakthroughs. They have also applied their technological innovations in many subway tunnels, and they have earned an invention award.
He currently has more than 200 people on her team. It has been challenging for her to win their recognition as their leader. He has accomplished that task by demonstrating her physical strength, rich wisdom, professional experience, and various other comprehensive qualities.
As a result, He often devotes lots of time and energy to acquiring relevant knowledge and skills.
Meanwhile, He has imparted her decades-long accumulation of experience and skills to younger teammates, to help them become technical experts and part of the backbone at STEC.
In addition, He has grown many types of plants and vegetables in the base of her emergency-rescue team, and she has invited those who cannot return home during Spring Festival to celebrate the holiday in the base.
He often speaks highly of the support from her team — and her husband and son — in her work. Their understanding and support are like a ray of light in the tunnels.
Deep Affection for Shanghai
Statistics indicate He and her team have provided maintenance and repair services to 21 subway lines nationwide, covering a total length of 1,000 kilometers. In addition, she and her team established professional rescue bases in six cities in 2020.
He and her team also provided full support to Zhengzhou, in Central China's Henan Province, in 2021, after the city suffered heavy casualties and property damage during torrential rains, though she had to stay in Shanghai to prepare for typhoons.
So far, He has headed her team in more than 500 rescue tasks, in 26 cities, and she and her team have built a strong defense line for their underground safety, which earned the team acclaim from industry insiders.
He has been awarded several national- and provincial-level honors — including National May 1 Women Model, National March 8th Red-Banner Holder, and Shanghai Model Worker — in recognition of her decades of tremendous contributions to and sacrifices for the nationwide safety of the subway sector.
During an interview, He said rapid development of Shanghai's subway network has required the subway administrator to utilize smart technologies to enhance relevant tunnel maintenance and repair services.
Through the efforts of He and her teammates, a digital and intelligent management and maintenance mechanism has been established, in Shanghai, to monitor operation of the subway network, because there is limited time for inspections and maintenance at night.
Utilization of advanced technologies and facilities has helped the team better discover hidden safety risks, and especially to take countermeasures to safeguard the smooth operation of the subway network in Shanghai.
He has said she has developed a closer bond with the city, and a strong sense of belonging, when she has talked about her work experience, and her feelings, throughout the past three decades.
Photos Supplied by Interviewee
(Women of China English Monthly May 2023 issue)
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