Saving lives as a grade crossing guard for 28 years

By Kim Son   October 7, 2022 | 02:30 am PT
The sight of a man safeguarding the railroad grade crossing has become a familiar one for residents in the northern Bac Giang Town.

When Kieu Van Phuc, 62, gets a phone call while eating lunch on a Saturday noon, he walks to the train tracks about 200 meters away and stands there with a whistle and two flags in hand.

He explains: "Freight trains don't have a set schedule. So it's normal for me to have to cut my lunch short and come here."

This intersection gets a lot of road traffic because it is close to two secondary schools. To make matters worse, the Bac Giang bus station is just across from it.

Yet there are no gates or railway personnel to close it off when a train approaches.

Phuc stands watch by the railway crossing in Bac Giang Town in the eponymous province on September 29, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Kim Son

Kieu Van Phuc stands watch by the railway crossing in Bac Giang Town in the eponymous province on September 29, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Kim Son

In 1994, Phuc and his wife set up a noodles eatery near the entrance to the alley, and he witnessed several tragic accidents that could have been averted if people received warnings of an approaching train. So the war veteran decided to do the job of a guard himself.

"I thought I could stand watch and warn people when a train was coming since my house was close by and it enabled me to also keep an eye on my noodles shop."

But he says he was unfairly labeled a "busybody" and "meddler" by many people.

One time when he stepped up help a woman cross the railway track, she mistook him for trying to touch her. But after hearing the sound of an approaching train, she thanked him.

He has lost track of how many lives he has saved.

Most recently he rescued a car dealership owner called Trieu Van Ngoc, who was riding pillion on his sister's motorcycle. She decided to take a chance and dash across the railway tracks but did not realize a train was approaching.

" Phuc shouted a warning, rushed over and helped push our vehicle out of the way just in time," Ngoc says.

Phuc even saved Tien, a railroad official, who was crossing the tracks on a bicycle.

When he noticed an oncoming train, he tried to halt but the brakes did not work. Again,
Phuc hauled the bicycle out of the way of the train.

Tien hugged Phuc and thanked him for saving his life. He went on to bring gifts to Phuc's house for the Lunar New Year to express his gratitude.

Phuc guards so students can cross the railroad tracks safely.  Photo by VnExpress/Kim Son

Phuc with school children at the railroad track. Photo by VnExpress/Kim Son

After a few years people in the area who saw him regularly stand guard by the track, gave him a uniform to wear.

Hong, a woman who sells refreshments in front of the Bac Giang bus station, says there were many deadly accidents before Phuc started volunteering as a guard.

"Accidents badly affect me and other sellers in the area. People who eat and drink near the bus station are afraid to come here again after seeing grisly accidents.

"Phuc's presence has resulted in a dramatic drop in incidents."

Ngo Quyen ward vice chairwoman Nguyen Thi Tan lauded Phuc for his selfless service.

"In 2019 the ward decided to let Kieu Van Phuc become a local railway guard and pay him VND2 million (US$83.66) a month."

After nearly 30 years at the job Phuc says he remembers the schedule of trains passing through and can tell what kind of train is approaching simply by listening to the horn.

"I am more committed and accountable for my work after putting my name on a contract. But I will do this regardless of compensation as long as my body, eyes and voice are in good order."

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