On a day when Chicago was freezing cold, its commuter train tracks were smoking hot.
On Tuesday, ABC News tweeted images of fires burning along train tracks in Chicago as the temperature fell well below zero.
And the wind chills were even more brutal.
— ABC News (@ABC) January 30, 2019
To the uninitiated, the images were a little misleading, according to a representative for Chicago’s Metra system.
While the agency was literally setting fire to the tracks, they weren’t actually burning, spokesman Michael Gillis told CNN.
Because Chicago winters are, well, Chicago winters, Metra has a system of gas-fed heaters that run alongside the rails as part of its efforts to ensure that the lines remain operational.
“Any time it’s below freezing, we’re using these,” Gillis told CNN.
Heating the rails is important to avoid gaps along the line, he wrote in an Instagram post.
“Pull-aparts are rail defects in which two rails separate at their connection. They occur in extreme cold when the metal shrinks and the rails literally pull apart from each other. How Metra forces make repairs is by warming the metal with fire until it expands and the two rails can be reconnected,” he wrote.
— Metra (@Metra) January 30, 2019
The other issue in winter is that switch points along various lines can become clogged due to ice and snow, Metra noted on its website.
The current heating system is a far cry from the past, the site notes.
“Workers had to fill what were called ‘smudge pots’ with kerosene, stick them in the spaces between the track ties and light them. This was all done by hand,” the site reported.
“We all used to carry this stuff, I called it skunk oil,” John Meyer, director of engineering for the Milwaukee District, told the website. “We poured it in a two-gallon can, poured it out, and threw a match in it, and it’d start a fire along all the rails. We’re talking in the mid-’70s. Nowadays you’d get in big trouble doing that.”
Despite the efforts, the blast of cold air hitting Chicago caused switch problems and extensive delays on Wednesday, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Cold weather in Chicago was nearing record territory before the city was expected to face heavy snow.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Thursday’s low was 21 degrees below zero, almost hitting the Chicago record of 27 below.
Factoring in the wind chill, it felt like it was 39 degrees below zero.
By Sunday, Chicago is supposed to be back above freezing with a high of 47, but with a dose of rain to mark the event.
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