Month: August 2012

Heat on the Rails

Although way up here in the UP we’ve been spared most of the punishing heat of this summer, I have had the opportunity to¬†experience some first-hand but little reported consequences of this heat wave. Most strikingly, the difficulty of this kind of heat on our transportation systems.

Roads buckled under the intense heat, with dire consequences for unwary drivers.

Steel rails can warp, greatly increasing the likelihood of derailments. This occured in my childhood home of Glenview on the 4th of July, when warped rails may have caused a coal freight train to derail and then collapse an overpass, killing two people in a car underneath it.

And while I was in Portland, Oregon, two weeks ago for a conference, the extreme heat caused the electric train system to slow to a crawl, due to the threat of warping rails and sagging overhead powerlines. Ironically (and shamefully), the conference involved a lot of ecologists reporting worrying changes in species and ecosystems due to warmer temperatures across the globe; many of us contributed to this problem by flying all the way to Portland to give these results.