Chicago rail tracks on fire to beat the cold

Published on : Thursday, January 31, 2019

As the U.S. Midwest plunges to minus 50 degree centigrade, Chicago rail has found a way to keep the trains running. Tracks on Chicago’s Metra commuter rail system are on flames, though not literally. The flames actually come from gas-fed heaters that run alongside the rails and keep them warm. Metra is also using a tubular heating system and hot air blowers to heat up the cold tracks.




The cold temperatures affect the tracks. In some cases the tracks experience what’s called ‘pull-aparts’ when two rails separate at their connection. The extreme cold shrinks the metal and the rails literally pull apart from each other. Heating the tracks with fire expands the metal until the two rails can be put back together again.




The heating system can be used to unclog the railroad switch points that can also become clogged with ice and snow in subzero conditions. The crew members remain in the area when the heating systems are being used so that they can monitor the flames.




Metra says it’s safe for the trains to run over the flames because the diesel fuel in the trains combusts only with pressure and heat, not open flames.




This method is a lot safer than the one the rail system used years back to thaw frozen tracks. Earlier, skunk oil or kerosene were poured out and lit up with match stick.




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