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Climate change means warped train tracks and hellish travels

Source(s):  Mashable, Inc.

By Mark Kaufman

On June 26, as a potent heat wave settled over Europe, atmospheric scientist Patrik Winiger also settled into his seat aboard a high-speed electric train traveling from Zurich to Amsterdam. The heat, which would soon topple temperature records across the continent, began to stress the sleek Deutsche Bahn train


Winiger's experience showcased the "classic problems" of modern railcars succumbing to heat stress, explained Andrew Quinn, a civil engineer at the University of Birmingham who researches the impacts of climate change on infrastructure, particularly railroads. "In extreme conditions you're going to stress all the motors, the AC, and control systems," Quinn said. 

These heat-stoked train woes are a growing problem, because scientists globally have repeatedly warned that human civilization will be exposed to more "very hot days" in the coming decades, even if global temperatures are curbed at 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above 19th-century conditions. Limiting warming to this ambitious mark, however, is now nearly impossible, which means trains (and the metal rails they ride on) will almost certainly feel the heat — heat that now regularly breaks or smashes historical records.


Critically, the hot weather doesn't just stress modern, high-tech trains. It can weaken and distort the steel rails — a notorious detriment to trains. When it starts getting really hot, the track essentially gets softer, explained [Paul] Chinowsky [a civil engineer at the University of Colorado Boulder]. So when a heavy rail car moves over the tracks, it pushes the pliable rail down and out. "It causes the rails to warp," he said. 


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  • Publication date 11 Jul 2019

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