How The Rise in Temperature Is Affecting Train Services

With the invention of cars and passenger planes, trains declined as a means of daily transportation in the U.S. However, they are still essential for transporting goods across the country. Since there is no continuous waterway extending across the U.S., trains are a vital part of getting goods from one side of the country to the other. Millions of people in big cities rely on trains for their daily commutes.

Climate change — the long-term temperature shift resulting from human actions — is impacting all travel. Airlines must cancel services in the face of increasingly frequent and strong storm systems and drivers often have to circumvent flooding and wildfires along their route. For trains, the rise in temperature can cause delays and service interference. Continue reading to learn more about how climate change impacts trains and what the future holds.

Why Are Heat Waves So Bad?

Outside temperatures have to be abnormally high for longer than two consecutive days to qualify a period as a heat wave. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies heat waves as one of the most dangerous natural hazards to human health and infrastructure. In addition to creating conditions that lead to other natural disasters, like extensive droughts and wildfires, excessive heat can impact human physiology and increase the strain on essentials like food, water and transportation.

Because things expand when they are exposed to heat, extremely hot temperatures can impact runways, railways and pavements. Construction crews build roads with spaces to accommodate normal expansions and contractions due to temperatures. However, heat waves bring about extremely high temperatures that overwhelm these systems, leading to buckling. Similar things happen on railways — steel train tracks can warp and buckle in high temperatures, causing delays for urban commuter trains and significant disruptions for cross-country cargo trains.

How Is the Rise in Temperature Affecting Train Services?

When constructing steel train tracks, a factor called design neutral temperature (DNT) indicates a narrow range at which the track can operate. Exceeding this temperature can lead to quicker track degrading, expansion and buckling.

Most of our current railway infrastructure is built to accommodate temperature records from the mid-20th century, which don’t reflect our current climate. Research shows that a typical 1,800 feet of track can expand up to 1 inch per each ten-degree temperature increase from the DNT.

Another factor contributing to train delays is the heat the wheels create as they traverse over the tracks. This heat-creating friction is worse when trains operate at high speeds. To combat the high temperatures, operators often run trains at slower speeds during heat waves to reduce the heat on the tracks, resulting in lengthy delays.

While track warping is one of the most obvious impacts of heat waves on trains, another danger is overheating engines and electrical components. In the U.S., most locomotives operate with diesel engines, but many electronic components on board contribute to high heat output in electronics cabinets and control rooms.

Cooling Solutions for Train Services

How can railways combat heat waves to prevent delays and costly derailments? Here are a few ways rail companies can fight the impact of heat waves on their services.

1. Proper Engine Maintenance

The internal combustion engine on a train is the most common type of engine and requires significant cooling to operate efficiently. Coolant is essential in helping the engine function. Throughout the combustion process, the coolant cycles through the engine to dissipate heat and prevent overheating by helping it maintain a consistent temperature.

Proper engine maintenance, including ensuring a functioning cooling system and proper coolant levels, is essential to keep trains operating well during heat waves.

2. Modified Track Construction and Monitoring

While a full-scale reconstruction of the rail system would prove extremely complicated, different construction methods can provide some potential solutions for track buckling. Using solid concrete slabs to contain the forces of train travel may help prevent buckling, although this construction method is hugely expensive.

It’s also crucial for rail companies to monitor tracks during heat waves and other extreme temperature conditions. Tracking temperatures may help predict issues and enable companies to respond more proactively.

3. Enclosure Cooling Units

Components inside trains also have high heat outputs that heat waves can exacerbate, leading to system failures. Enclosure cooling units can help trains maintain consistent ambient temperatures to prevent overheating in electrical compartments and automation control rooms. These systems are built to withstand the constant vibrations and rugged conditions inside a train compartment.

Advanced Cooling Technologies creates custom sealed enclosure units for the rail industry to meet the highest demands and contribute to higher efficiency and reliability. Our solutions meet standards set by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), including standards 12, 3R, 4 and 4X.

4. Power Electronics Cooling

Much has changed since the days of steam-powered locomotives; today’s trains make use of substantial electronics to manage power distribution and controls systems. Advanced Cooling Technologies has developed tools to aid in the design and thermal management of high-power IGBTs; specifically Loop Thermosyphon based cooling solutions and Heat Pipe embedded HiK™ plates have been used with great success.

These tools are used to conduct heat away from the discrete electronics devices in various kinds of systems. Since trains operate in a fixed orientation and are subject to airflow during motion; this lends them to be good targets for passive, low thermal resistance thermal management solutions.

What Does the Future Look Like for Climate Change and Trains?

Because climate change increases the frequency, scope and magnitude of heat waves, train services can expect more instances of track buckling and derailed trains.

If current climate trends persist, the average American will likely experience between 27 and 50 days that reach temperatures higher than 95 each year. As a result of more days with higher temperatures, train services will experience more delays due to track buckling. Trains will also have to operate at lower speeds, lengthening people’s commutes and extending transportation deadlines for goods and products.

One study projects that climate change will have enormous economical impacts on the rail service in the coming years. For example, the study estimates that by 2100, delays from temperature will cost approximately $45 million to $60 billion. Increases in fuel costs will also impact consumers, increasing prices for products and the cost of train travel.

To reduce the economic impact on train services due to climate change, companies can use track sensors to monitor conditions and temperatures — a much better short-term solution than modifying track construction. These sensors can identify specific geographic areas where interventions like speed reduction can become more targeted and efficient.

Check Out Enclosure Cooling Units for Electronic Cabinets

As the premier method for ensuring ambient temperature control in electronics cabinets, enclosure cooling units from Advanced Cooling Technologies have a variety of applications for the rail industry. Modern trains operate with a large number of electronic components, which create a high heat output. Enclosure cooling units reduce temperatures in control cabinets to mitigate issues with devices overheating or degrading.

If ready-made solutions don’t satisfy your requirements, Advanced Cooling Technologies offers custom solutions for standard models and even fully-customized designs. To learn more about how our solutions can help maintain electrical components in trains and other applications, contact The Thermal Experts today!

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