How to prevent freezing trains being delayed: Set them on fire

Summary:In the big freeze, even trains have been scuppered. However, old ways have stopped Long Island Rail Road from facing modern switch and line problems.


In the U.K., it takes little more than the 'wrong type of rain' -- or outraged London underground workers -- to cause transport to grind to a halt. Rain is bad enough; snow is chaos. However, abroad and across the pond, transport systems are often a little more robust -- and trains will continue to run in poor conditions.

Unless, of course, massive winter storms come calling. In the grip of such weather, many train services across the U.S. have been impacted -- but the Long Island Rail Road has turned to old ways to keep our modern transport flowing.

The rail has set its tracks on fire.


Cold snaps don't impact trains -- it is the switches that act as directors between tracks that freeze; a single failure can cause a full line to grind to a halt. However, the railroad is using age-old methods including burning kerosene and natural gas to keep the tracks warm enough to function.

Dozens of switch heaters have been installed throughout the 700-mile system, using electricity, gas and kerosene throughout storms to melt the ice. In order to keep the switches working, they are doused with a hydrocarbon oil -- Hexane -- poured from a long snouted can before being ignited. Once on fire, it burns for roughly 15 minutes, de-icing frozen switches.

These methods are important for keeping commuters moving -- but there is something old-worldly about using fire to melt ice in a world of electricity.


Via: Wired

Image credit:MTA Facebook/Patrick Cashin

This post was originally published on

Topics: Innovation


Charlie Osborne, a medical anthropologist who studied at the University of Kent, UK, is a journalist, freelance photographer and former teacher. She has spent years travelling and working across Europe and the Middle East as a teacher, and has been involved in the running of businesses ranging from media and events to B2B sales. Charli... Full Bio

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