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Trains Could Literally Crash as Extreme Heat Damages US Rail Network, Causing Buckling Tracks

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Temperatures reaching over 100 degrees have raised concerns about whether the United States’ railway infrastructure is prepared to handle the nation’s record-breaking heat wave.

“Oppressive and extreme summer heat will produce dangerous conditions through the weekend for multiple locations across the U.S., especially in the Northeastern U.S.,” the National Weather Service announced Friday.

“Excessive Heat Warnings were issued for much of the Desert Southwest and a large portion of the Central Plains and Middle Mississippi River Valley are under Heat Advisories,” the agency said, adding that “[d]aytime highs will soar into the triple digits in these respective areas today, with another day of mid-90s for highs in the Ohio Valley, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast.”

Temperatures rose over 100 degrees in some areas this week, including Texas, where power consumption peaked as residents tried to brave the heat, according to CNN.

Civil engineers fear rising temperatures also could affect railway infrastructure, causing hiccups in the country’s 160,141-mile-long railway system, Bloomberg reported Thursday.

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Earlier this month, Amtrak instituted “heat-related” speed restrictions on its Northeast Corridor service between New York and Philadelphia, the outlet reported.

In late June, a Bay Area Rapid Transit train derailed in Concord, California, after high temperatures of around 140 degrees caused the tracks to buckle, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Approximately 50 passengers had to be evacuated from the train. Fortunately, passengers had only sustained minor injuries, according to the report.

While the Department of Transportation insists that the U.S. railway network at present is equipped to handle the impact of high temperature, experts believe that the endurance won’t last long.

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“The US is not prepared,” Paul Chinowsky, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder, told Bloomberg. “While the rail system is incrementally being improved, there is significant work to do and what is being done is not being done fast enough.”

Chinowsky said that most U.S. railroads — especially those in the Northeast and Southwest — were made of steel, which, when faced with high temperatures, expands and becomes soft.

Adding to the issue is the speed and weight of passengers and freight trains, which, along with the structural issues in the network, form a deadly combination, he said.

“When it gets significantly hotter, like it is now, it gets soft, and you run a rail car over that, you get what are called sun kinks,” Chinowsky explained. “It’s essentially a deformation [and] the rails just buckle.”

“You can even think of it as a person standing on sand,” he said. “When you run on sand, or you put something really heavy on sand, it pushes that sand away from you; the same thing is happening to the rail.”

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“Extreme heat will continue to present challenges for BART and all transit agencies,” BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost told Bloomberg.

The heat wave tormenting the United Kingdom has created similar difficulties.

The Twitter account for Britain’s Network Rail posted that workers were “painting the rails white to prevent them from getting hotter.”

Aside from railways, the heat waves could impact roads and bridges as well as aircraft runways, according to The Washington Post.

On Monday, Britain’s largest airbase, RAF Brize Norton, and the nearby Luton airport closed runways after the heat resulted in surface defects.

A military source told Sky News the runway at the RAF base had “melted” because of high temperatures.

Costa Samaras, principal assistant director for energy in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, blamed the infrastructure issues on climate change.

“Most of our physical infrastructure was built using the temperature records of the mid-20th century,” Samaras told the Post. “That is not the climate we have now.”

“Melting roads and runways are no longer a hypothetical — and we know with increased emissions it’s only going to get hotter,” he said.

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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