SEPTA monitoring effects on rail systems as heat wave continues

SEPTA has lowered train operating speeds as Philadelphia faces prolonged extreme heat.

Looking out at the Philadelphia skyline from the Allegheny SEPTA station

File photo: Looking out at the Philadelphia skyline from the Allegheny SEPTA station in Kensington. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

While extreme heat across the Philadelphia region is expected to subside for a few days, SEPTA says it will continue monitoring the effects of heat on its rail systems.

In extreme heat, the overhead wires that power trains can sag and potentially get tangled. To reduce the risk of power issues, SEPTA limits train and trolley speeds between 5 and 10 miles per hour when temperatures hit above 90 degrees.

SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch says this is because excessive heat can cause metal tracks to expand and limiting speed limits can greatly reduce potential damage.

“We have extra inspections on all our rail lines during times like this and make sure that we’re looking out for any issues and particularly looking at areas where we have switches and other equipment that could be susceptible to extreme heat,” Busch said.

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So far, there hasn’t been any significant disruptions to rail service during the heat wave. Busch says episodes of prolonged heat aren’t as difficult to manage compared to periods of extreme temperature shifts, such as the transition between spring and summer seasons.

“Say we have an early heat wave; in the spring, we go from 60 [degrees] and then it shoots up to 90,” Busch said. “That can cause a more dramatic and sudden change in the conditions and those are a little more difficult to manage. As difficult as it is, a heat wave is a little bit easier for us to predict in terms of what we’re going to have to do to our equipment and adjustments that we might have to make.”

According to 6abc, temperatures are predicted to dip below 90 degrees Tuesday and Wednesday, but jump back up by Thursday. Philadelphia’s Heat Health Emergency is expected to end by Monday at 8 p.m.

Overseas, extreme temperatures in the U.K. caused train tracks to buckle. The company that runs the U.K.’s train tracks, Network Rail, said some rails had hit 144 degrees. The steel used is only stress tested to 80 degrees.

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As of Sunday, more than 85 million Americans were under excessive heat warnings and heat advisories.

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