Amid extreme heat, US infrastructure and transportation systems buckle under pressure

Climate Change | News

The nation’s transportation system was built to withstand the weather, come rain or shine.

However, the heat dome scorching the U.S. has been pushing the nation’s infrastructure to the limits. As millions of Americans face sweltering heat conditions, many have also been left stranded by disruptions in the nation’s transportation systems that buckled under extreme temperatures…

Adding to the delays were speed restrictions. Amtrak warned on June 20 that trains may slow down to accommodate the higher temperatures. The Washington, D.C., Metro did the same.

“Trains move more slowly during the heat because the tracks are softer and the catenary wires are drooping,” said Clinton Andrews, director of the Center for Urban Policy Research at Rutgers University.

Transit workers left vulnerable

Rising temperatures are also taking a toll on transit workers, from rail maintenance staff to ground crews at airports who are exposed to “really life-threatening levels of heat,” according to Andrews. And without them, trains and planes cannot operate…

Andrews said the U.S. needs to adopt a more adaptable infrastructure planning process.

“Hot weather has imposed stresses: the sagging catenary wires, the buckled tracks, the train cars whose brakes and motors are overheating, and the workers who are calling in sick,” Andrews said. “But the proximal cause is the fact that we haven’t invested in spring-loaded catenaries that can take up the slack when the wire droops. The fact that we are riding 50-year old train cars. The fact that our signaling systems are only slowly being updated.”

“Infrastructure systems need regular investment,” Andrews said. “Unfortunately, in much of the United States, we have not been doing that.”

NBC Washington, July 8, 2024