For the first time in its 93-year history, Yilan Train Station has female rail yard workers who proudly say: “Whatever men can do, we can do too.”
The pair are train-carriage coupling operators, 32-year-old Chen Hui-ching (陳惠菁) and 24-year-old Chang Ya-chu (張雅筑).
“It’s a fun and challenging job,” Chang said.
As trains arrive at the station, Chen and Chang stand on the platform, each carrying a wooden mallet, ready to get to work.
After the train operator dismounts from his cabin, he hands over the operating keys to the station master, while making sure the power has been turned off for safety reasons. Then it is time for the two female workers to do their job.
They jump off the platform and proceed to carry out the train carriage coupling operations by linking the gas brake coupler and power cables on adjoining carriages.
For electric trains, the coupling device for a power cable weighs up to 10kg, and after decoupling, it has to be raised up to a meter high to perform the coupling operation.
The final step entails them pounding on the coupling locking gears with their wooden mallets to tighten and secure the coupling connections.
There are more than 300 train-carriage coupling operators in Yilan, a job that was previously restricted to men.
This year, of the 14 successful applicants for rail yard jobs in Yilan, four were women. Chen and Chang were assigned to Yilan Station, the other two to Suao (蘇澳) Station.
Chen, who is 163cm tall, graduated with a degree in management from Ling Tung University in Greater Taichung. She then went to military school, leaving with the rank of first class sergeant in the air force. She said five years ago she decided to leave the air force and got a job working in the private sector.
However, her work was badly affected by the economic slowdown and she was forced to take unpaid leave, adding that she became worried about getting laid off and so decided to take the civil service examination. She later passed the test for employee recruitment by the Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA).
“To prepare for the tests, I trained for hand gripping strength by lifting 10kg buckets of water at home,” she said.
“Before I used to ride the train. Now I can give instructions to train operators, leap off the train and jump off the platforms. The work can be good fun,” she said.
Chang, who is 153cm tall, graduated from university last year. After working for eight months at a desk job in a cram school, she decided to take the civil service examination because she felt a job with the TRA would be more secure.
“At first, I was worried that I did not have the strength required for the job, but once you get the proper technique down, it is not so difficult and not really too tiring [despite the physical labor,]” Chang said.
Yilan station master Lo Po-wen (羅博文) said the carriage coupling operation is a physically demanding job requiring good team work.
“In our TRA examination, men must run 1,200m within 5 minutes and 50 seconds, and women must do it within 6 minutes and 20 seconds. This is the basic requirement,” Lo said. “For the train-carriage coupling job, the workers need to pass the four-month trial period. After that, they officially become new employees.”
The starting salary is about NT$30,000, Lo said.