Still lighting fires on railroad tracks to keep the switches working

Here is a brief look at using fire on the Long Island Railroad to keep the switches operational in the cold temperatures:

When the cold hits, isn’t the trains that have trouble. It’s the switches that direct the cars between tracks that freeze, and when a switch fails, it can compromise an entire line. To keep the switches functioning, the Long Island Railroad uses the centuries-old method of burning kerosene or natural gas to keep everything running.

The Long Island Railroad, the busiest commuter rail line in the United States, has dozens of switch heaters throughout its 700-mile system. Most use electric heating elements, other older ones burn natural gas, and the even older “switch pots” burn kerosene. Trackmen work through the nastiest of storms, lighting the heaters and dousing switches with Hexane, which is then ignited to melt the ice.

Yes, there are more civilized methods, like hot air blowers that clear debris, but in an era of self-driving cars and other modern marvels, simply using  fire to melt ice has a quaint retro feel to it.

While the picture is cool, I don’t know if “quaint retro” is the way to describe this. It is the 21st century, right? I’ve seen several stories about the use of fire this winter – including in the Chicago area with the maligned Metra tracks – but no one has mentioned how this is done in other countries. What about Siberia? Are there any technologies that could solve this issue?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s