It is so cold in Chicago right now that the railway workers need to light the train tracks on fire in order to prevent trains from crashing.
Maybe you haven’t been outside in the last few days. Honestly, we can’t blame you--it’s winter and there really is no reason to go outside, ever. But if you have been outside, you probably know a very brutal truth: it’s cold as heck.
And it’s even colder in some parts of American than others. Chicago, for example, got down to -10 degrees Fahrenheit on Wednesday. That’s -23 degree Celsius for the rest of the world. With windchill, it felt like it was closer to -30 F.
That’s seriously cold. It was cold enough that people were driving around picking up the homeless and stuffing them in hotels since otherwise, they’d freeze solid sitting outside. It so cold that the city might even experience frost quakes--sudden freezing and expansion of water that causes the very ground to crack and rumble.
It’s also so cold that metal will contract so far that it might crack or break. Metal that is found, for example, in Chicago’s train tracks.
Metal either expands or contracts, depending on the temperature. On hot days it gets bigger, and in extreme cold, it gets smaller and denser. In extreme cases, such as this week, that expansion and contraction can cause stress fractures in the tracks. It can also get so cold that the tracks shrink to the point where the bolts holding them together come loose or even break.
That can make things dangerous for trains looking to keep freight moving, but fixing it can be an issue too. If you use supercooled metal, it might work in the extreme cold but it’ll expand and crack once the summer comes. In order to fix the tracks, they must be heated to where they would normally be on an average day.
So how do you heat tracks up? You douse them in kerosene and light them on fire, of course.
WINTER IN CHICAGO! Setting the tracks on fire to combat the extreme cold - so trains can keep moving!Posted by ABC 7 Chicago on Wednesday, January 4, 2017
Here we see an example back in 2017. The tracks will burn until the kerosene is all used up and then the workers will get in there with heat and cold-resistant gloves to do their work.
The same thing can happen on rail switches which involves the same treatment.
So if you see the Chicago tracks on fire, it’s not a sign that anarchy has broken out across the city. It’s just so cold that we need to light the tracks on fire to even work on them.