Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Polar Vortex - setting the tracks on fire!

1634 views
24 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    September, 2011
  • 119 posts
Polar Vortex - setting the tracks on fire!
Posted by irishRR on Thursday, January 31, 2019 1:18 AM

For those of you who don't live in the upper midwest, this is what has been going on to keep trains in service during the -60° wind chills. Pretty crazy stuff...

http://www.newswest9.com/2019/01/30/how-cold-is-it-chicago-is-setting-rail-tracks-fire-so-trains-can-run/

  • Member since
    March, 2017
  • 1,976 posts
Posted by Track fiddler on Thursday, January 31, 2019 1:40 AM

Your link didn't go through and I wish it did unless it's just on my end

I saw the tail end of the news when my wife was watching it how Amtrak had fire strips and the rails on fire in Chicago to get the trains to perform in the cold somehow.

Like I said I came in at the tail end  I have no idea about this   I hope someone elaborates on this one.

TF

  • Member since
    August, 2003
  • From: Collinwood, Ohio, USA
  • 8,144 posts
Posted by gmpullman on Thursday, January 31, 2019 2:18 AM

Track fiddler
 I hope someone elaborates on this one.

Switch heaters.

Been going on for years. Some are gas fired open flame (You'll see a large propane tank sometimes). Some are gas fired and use ductwork to direct the heat toward the points and frog. Others are electric. Sometimes crews used to go out with kerosene sprayers and actually melt away the snow and ice.

They're almost all remote controlled (automatic) today. 

New York Central and others had a flat car mounted jet engine to blow away snow and heat the points.

In other cases, and somewhat unrelated, when a rail is cold and a joint has to be made the rail would be heated to expand it then the bolts put in the joint bar. Rail lengths had to be normalized to prevent pull-aparts in cold weather or sun kinks in warm. Sometimes the track gang would soak a rope in kerosene and lay it along the base of the rail to be heated then set fire to it.

Somebody in the media saw the flames and made a big circus out of it. Then it hits Faceplant and Yootoob. Wowee!

Here they are last year on METRA:

 

Cheers, Ed

  • Member since
    March, 2017
  • 1,976 posts
Posted by Track fiddler on Thursday, January 31, 2019 2:30 AM

Thanks Ed   It doesn't appear Alrich is stirring over the pond  I think I'm going to try to hit the rack again

Thanks for clarifying things with the fire on the rails  Sometimes those TV dopes don't do.a very good job

The video you posted came through while I was signing off  I watched it  Very cool

Thank you   TF

  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • From: Omaha, NE
  • 9,494 posts
Posted by dehusman on Thursday, January 31, 2019 7:45 AM

Switch heaters are turned on any time the temperature is below freezing and there is a chance for precipitation.  They can be turned on locally, they can be turned on remotely by the dispatcher or they can be turned on automatically by sensors that detect temperature and precipitation.  

Much ado about something that has been going on pretty much every winter since the 1800's.

Dave H. Painted side goes up. My website : wnbranch.com

  • Member since
    December, 2015
  • 5,193 posts
Posted by BigDaddy on Thursday, January 31, 2019 7:24 PM

No switches to be heated here, just a diamond

Henry

COB Potomac & Northern

By the Chesapeake Bay

  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: 4610 Metre's North of the Fortyninth on the left coast of Canada
  • 5,745 posts
Posted by BATMAN on Thursday, January 31, 2019 9:17 PM

Brent

It's not the age honey, it's the mileage.

https://www.youtube.com/user/BATTRAIN1

  • Member since
    February, 2002
  • From: Reading, PA
  • 25,983 posts
Posted by rrinker on Thursday, January 31, 2019 9:25 PM

 Yeah, been seeing a bunch of non-train friends reposting it all over facebook. I tried to comment on some and mention what it really is and it's not really a big deal. And why it's important to keep snow and ice from packing in between the point and stock rails. 

 Once again journalists fail. A quick call to one of the railroads would have provided the details on what was going on, but the heck with that, FIRE! 

                                        --Randy


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

  • Member since
    May, 2010
  • 5,369 posts
Posted by mbinsewi on Thursday, January 31, 2019 9:50 PM

BigDaddy
No switches to be heated here, just a diamond

Interesting.  After watching them replace joint bars, or rail joiners, whatever they are called, I got to thinking (dangerous, indeed) that since things contract in the cold, that just maybe the extreme cold has caused something at that joint, with the diamond, to be displaced, or broke.

My guess is they heated a section of the rail to get it to expand in length so they could disasemble what ever was not right, and replace it.  ??

Mike.

  • Member since
    June, 2007
  • From: Northern Virginia
  • 6,674 posts
Posted by riogrande5761 on Friday, February 01, 2019 10:24 AM

That report was on MSN news.  The setting fire to rails must be a new thing. 

I visited Chicago under very similar extreme weather conditions back in Dec 1983 and took Amtrak from Chicago Union Station to Osceola IA; I'll never forget.

On that trip the high temps were -10 and and the low was -25, and with the wind chill factor it was -75 to -83 degrees.  The snot was freezing in your nose!  The Amtrak California Zephyr which was normally able to do 79 mph was limited to 45 mph on the trip west because they were worried with the extreme cold, the rail might break. 

Naturally we were very late getting into Oscela IA.  My dad came in from Lorimar to pick us up from the station but he couldn't drive his newish car because it wouldn't start.  He had just came into Iowa via Colorado and lots of snow there too.  Since my dads car would not start, there was an old 1963 Ford (Galaxy I think) which they used to pick us up - they had to bring the car battery inslide to warm it up before they could start the car.

When I returned to Chicago and was ready to leave back to college in Bloomington IN, my VW Rabbit wouldn't start until we heated up the engine using a paint stripper hot air gun.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

  • Member since
    February, 2008
  • 1,182 posts
Posted by kasskaboose on Friday, February 01, 2019 10:33 AM

Such a shame that journalists didn't provde some more background on what's happening.  Leave it to folks here to explain.

No question that putting parts of the rails on fire is not something to try at home. 

  • Member since
    May, 2017
  • 226 posts
Posted by xboxtravis7992 on Saturday, February 02, 2019 12:43 PM

gmpullman

Been going on for years... 



  • Member since
    March, 2012
  • 163 posts
Posted by PC101 on Sunday, February 03, 2019 10:44 PM

mbinsewi
 
BigDaddy
No switches to be heated here, just a diamond

 

Interesting.  After watching them replace joint bars, or rail joiners, whatever they are called, I got to thinking (dangerous, indeed) that since things contract in the cold, that just maybe the extreme cold has caused something at that joint, with the diamond, to be displaced, or broke.

My guess is they heated a section of the rail to get it to expand in length so they could disasemble what ever was not right, and replace it.  ??

Mike.

 

For joint bars and rail joiners you could use the word Fishplate also.

  • Member since
    April, 2011
  • From: About 20 minutes from IRM
  • 400 posts
Posted by CGW121 on Monday, February 04, 2019 8:07 AM

I remember seeing the CNW heating the switch points in West Chicago near JB tower when  I was maybe 5 years old, the fire was in containers that looked like cartoon bombs, for reference I am 65 so it been going on a long time.

  • Member since
    August, 2003
  • From: Collinwood, Ohio, USA
  • 8,144 posts
Posted by gmpullman on Monday, February 04, 2019 1:09 PM

CGW121
the fire was in containers that looked like cartoon bombs,

Those almost sound like "Smudge Pots". Maybe they placed them along the stock rails against the points?

I remember switch tenders using galvanized cans with shoulder straps. These cans had maybe a three-foot tube coming out of the bottom with a nozzle at the end. They would use these like small flame-throwers. They used the same cans in the summer to burn off the weeds along sidings. Probably filled with kerosene, maybe they had hand pumps to pressurize the cans, too?

Lots of memories, Ed

  • Member since
    April, 2011
  • From: About 20 minutes from IRM
  • 400 posts
Posted by CGW121 on Monday, February 04, 2019 2:15 PM

Yea smudge pots is what they used. 3 track main going into a yard with fairly heavy traffic the whole line there was lit up like a christmas tree. Dad told me they bused then to keep the switches from freezing. They also used fire to keep weeds down. 

  • Member since
    December, 2015
  • 5,193 posts
Posted by BigDaddy on Monday, February 04, 2019 6:37 PM

mbinsewi
My guess is they heated a section of the rail to get it to expand in length so they could disasemble what ever was not right, and replace it. ??

The video didn't show them replacing any rail, but we all have seen videos recently that didn't show the whole story. 

Henry

COB Potomac & Northern

By the Chesapeake Bay

  • Member since
    May, 2010
  • 5,369 posts
Posted by mbinsewi on Monday, February 04, 2019 7:54 PM

BigDaddy
The video didn't show them replacing any rail, but we all have seen videos recently that didn't show the whole story.

No. that I didn't see rail replacement,  but they were replacing the joint bars, or joiners, or fishplates, whatever term you want use, where it all connected to the diamond.

I was reading that it was not uncommon for a rail to shrink enough during extreme cold, that things can come apart.

Just my guess as to what they were doing.

Mike.

  • Member since
    October, 2007
  • From: Jersey Shore
  • 312 posts
Posted by wojosa31 on Wednesday, February 06, 2019 6:58 PM

mbinsewi
they were replacing the joint bars, or joiners, or fishplates, whatever term you want use, where it all connected to the diamond.

What you are most likely referring to is a pull apart, which is quite common when very cold temperatures contract a section of ribonrail. The bolts pop out of the splice bars (joint bars) and the rail contracts leaving a rail gap. Trackmen correct this by heating the offending rail with a length of rope soaked with kerosene, and guide the rail back into the proper location in the splice bar, then replace the bolts.  This is more common with ribbon rail, versus stick rail which is only 39 ft or 78 ft per section.

BTW: Fish plates are the plates that the web (wide part) of the rail rests on the ties. This is where the spikes are inserted.

Smudge pots, like modern switch heaters are used to keep the switch points from freezing in cold or icy weather. 

None of this is new, but has been going on for over a century. Just that some of this process has been updated and modernized.

Jet blowers are jet engines mounted on track cars and are used to blow out switches in yards. They are still in common use. They are not used in some areas, because in addition to snow, they will blow away ballast and anything else fastened.

Boris

  • Member since
    May, 2010
  • 5,369 posts
Posted by mbinsewi on Wednesday, February 06, 2019 7:49 PM

wojosa31
BTW: Fish plates are the plates that the web (wide part) of the rail rests on the ties. This is where the spikes are inserted.

Well thanks Boris.  Someone in a previous post on this thread mentioned I could call them fish plates, so that's why I included it in the list of possibble terminology.

I watch the CN on what they call the Waukesha Sub,  here in SE WI. and they have the gas fired switch heaters, with the duct work.

Mike.

  • Member since
    December, 2015
  • 5,193 posts
Posted by BigDaddy on Wednesday, February 13, 2019 5:32 PM

I'm not sure why this works when it gets cold after the fire goes out, but here is more fire.

Henry

COB Potomac & Northern

By the Chesapeake Bay

  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • From: Omaha, NE
  • 9,494 posts
Posted by dehusman on Thursday, February 14, 2019 9:14 AM

What is happening in that picture is there is some sort of rail/track defect they are repairing.  There is a welder's hi-rail truck on the tracks ahead of the fire.

Either a joint stripped out or a weld failed (pull apart).  In most cases that's because there was a defect in the track component (bad weld, contamination in the weld, defects in the rail, cracks in the rail, weld, joint bars, bolts.).  The cold weather shrank the rail and put the rail in tension.  The rail anchors weren't enough to hold it against the tension and the rail/component failed at the defect.

When that happened the rail wasn't constrained and the tension caused the rails to "shorten".  At the defect there was now a gap between the rails. For small gaps there is a hydraulic device that will pull the rails together.  Since it is so cold, that would exceed the capacity of those machines.

They remove the anchors, allowing the rail to move more freely, heat up the rail, causing it to expand (actually what they are doing is more getting the rail closer to "normal" length).  That closes up the gap.  They will then shoot a new weld or replace the joint bars or bolts in the rail while its warm.

They replace the rail anchors in the correct pattern.  After the rail cools the rail reverts to being in tension, but because they have removed the defective part of the rail, the defective weld or the defective bolts or bars, the rails withstand the tension fine and everything is back to normal.

Dave H. Painted side goes up. My website : wnbranch.com

  • Member since
    December, 2015
  • 5,193 posts
Posted by BigDaddy on Thursday, February 14, 2019 9:26 AM

Thanks Dave, any idea how big a piece they remove?

Henry

COB Potomac & Northern

By the Chesapeake Bay

  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • From: Omaha, NE
  • 9,494 posts
Posted by dehusman on Thursday, February 14, 2019 10:39 AM

BigDaddy

Thanks Dave, any idea how big a piece they remove?

 

Depends on the defect.  If its broken joint bars, then they don't remove anything, they replace the bars.
 
If its broken insulated joint then remove the joint and replace it with a new insulated joint (insulated joints are commonly factory made and come as a piece of rail about 10-19 ft long with the insulated joint in it.)  They cut out the old failed joint and a piece of rail about the size of the new joint.
 
If its a broken rail or weld, they will cut out at least a half a rail length of rail (19.5 ft) and replace it with a half a rail (19.5 ft).  
 
Actual standards for where and how much they cut out depends on the railroad's standards and the era.  The term "Dutchman" means a really short piece of rail used to fill a short gap.  Back 40 years ago, if a rail in a yard or secondary like broke a couple feet from a joint, you would just put joint bars over the break.
 
I don't know what they are doing specifically, but I don't think they are replacing a rail, since I don't see any equipment to handle a rail or tools to replace a rail.  If I had to guess I would sat its installing a field weld on on a piece of rail previously replaced (removing a joint) or maybe broken angle bars, really outside possibility of an insulated joint.

Dave H. Painted side goes up. My website : wnbranch.com

  • Member since
    August, 2003
  • From: Collinwood, Ohio, USA
  • 8,144 posts
Posted by gmpullman on Thursday, February 14, 2019 11:20 AM

I recall track people around here refering to a repair rail as a "plug rail". Could be a regional term used. I also recall reading about a wreck that occurred very close to me back in 2007 that was attributed to an improperly installed plug rail. Here's a summary of that investigation that is interesting reading about the use of repair sections, compromise joint bars and proper drilling of joints:

https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Reports/RAB0902.pdf

Regards, Ed

Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Users Online

Search the Community

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Model Railroader Newsletter See all
Sign up for our FREE e-newsletter and get model railroad news in your inbox!