Why Extreme Heat Turns Train Tracks Into Spaghetti

extreme heat railroad tracks buckle new jersey 1978
This weekend, temperatures in many Western states soared into the triple digits, sparking wild fires and resulting in at least one death.

Extreme heat is not just dangerous for people and planes. It also makes train travel hazardous by causing railroad tracks to bend.  

When temperatures rise, steel tracks will expand, meaning they get longer. An 1800-foot length of rail will expand almost one foot with an 80-degree change in temperature, for example.

Heat-related expansion places a lot of stress on the ties, ballasts, and rail anchors that keep the tracks fixed to the ground. Eventually, the tracks will buckle under the force. These are called “sun kinks.” It makes the tracks look like spaghetti. 

In the photo above, taken on July 24, 1978, extremely warped rail tracks near Asbury Park, New Jersey coast led to the derailment of a passenger car, which can be seen in the background. 

To prevent accidents, rail networks will require trains to reduce their speed when the thermometer goes above 90 degrees.

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