Washington among cities slowing metro rail amid hot weather

Rising commuter rail station heat threatens to wreak havoc on transit systems.
Washington D.C. subway trains.
Posted at 9:56 PM, Jul 28, 2023

On Friday, Washington, D.C. metro rail authorities announced that the city's commuter train lines would be slowed down to 35 mph on above-ground tracks because of extremely hot weather. 

The service said that passengersshould expect delays, which had the possibility of causing issues in Washington's many open-air stations without air conditioning.  

The issue is not unique to just the U.S. capital, as other major cities have expressed worry that high temperatures could cause major issues for commuter rail operations. 

In Los Angeles, officials called extreme heat the "most pervasive risk that metro faces," the LAist reported in 2019.

The heat could cause failures with signal switches, station elevators and other mechanical equipment. 

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In a study that included researchers from Northwestern University's engineering school, Professor Alessandro Rotta Loria stated, "Subsurface temperature rises can also cause transportation infrastructure and public health issues, such as overheated subway rails that force trains to slow down or stop to avoid incidents with significant economic costs associated with the delay of public transportation services."

The study authors wrote, "Urban areas increasingly suffer from subsurface heat islands: an underground climate change responsible for environmental, public health, and transportation issues. Soils, rocks, and construction materials deform under the influence of temperature variations and excessive deformations can affect the performance of civil infrastructure."

In New York City, officials tried the short-term solution of placing fans in subway stations to try and create more breeze, and cool down subsurface temperatures. 

Masoud Ghandehari, a professor at NYU of Urban Systems Engineering said he doesn't believe it's "financially viable" to ventilate the subway system in that city, and said it may not be physically possible.