People residing in Chicago are a resilient bunch. Even in this freezing cold, they are able to keep things moving. Even when it gets below zero, the city is able to keep the transportation going on! But how the city does it will have you amazed! The commuter trains that run during this weather in the Windy City do so on train tracks that have been set on fire!
Recently flames were witnessed on the tracks of Chicago’s Metra commuter rail system. Apparently, they were set on fire to prevent freezing. The spokesman Michael Gillis from Metra has said that the actual tracks are not being set to fire. Instead, the flames that can be seen in aerial footage are sprouting from gas-fed heaters that have been installed alongside the rails for the sake of keeping them warm. Metra has also incorporated a tubular heating system and hot air blowers for heating up cold tracks.
Gillis also told that anytime it is below freezing, these gas heaters are used by Metra. He also said that other rail systems in North America rely on similar systems. We are sure that you are thinking why do they need to warm the tracks? Allow us to explain; the extreme cold affects the tracks in two ways; pull-apart is the first of them.
Pull-apart happens when two rails become separated at their connection. The cold causes the metal to shrink, and the rails pull themselves apart from one another. Heating the tracks helps them to expand until the two rails can be put back together.
Railroad switch points also get clogged with snow and ice during extreme cold. The heating systems are also utilized for unclogging them. The maintenance crew light the heaters and have total control over the flow of the gas. The crew members work in 12-hour shifts and monitor the flames during their shifts.
The current approach is much safer as opposed to the one that was used for thawing the frozen tracks. The crew used pots that were filled with kerosene and lit them by hand in spaces between the track ties. John Meyer, Metra’s director of engineering, said, ‘We all used to carry this stuff. I called it skunk oil. We poured it in a 2-gallon can, poured it out, and threw a match in it, and it’d start a fire along all the rails. We’re talking in the mid-’70s. Nowadays you’d get in big trouble doing that.’
As per Metra, it is safe to run the trains over the flames since the diesel fuel only combusts with pressure and heat and not with open flames.