Painting the tracks white?

Most of our blogs are centered around trains and history in the United States; however, this week I am breaking all the rules. First off, I’m writing in first person. Secondly, I’m writing about trains in the United Kingdom. Thirdly, I’m writing about current events and not history.

If you have not heard, the United Kingdom has issued its first “Red Alert Heat Warning” ever. For a few days this week, temperatures in London are expected to reach and possibly exceed 104°F (40°C) and I, fortunately or unfortunately enough, am here for this historical event. U.S. citizens may scoff at the temperature, but this is a country where, “On occasion, it can reach around 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) in a heatwave.”[1] The upcoming heatwave has prompted the government to issue multiple heath warnings about how to keep cool and hydrated, but also for commuters and travelers to expect severe travel delays.

Photo provided by Network Rail Media Centre )

So, what are the Brits doing to prepare their trains and tracks for the heatwave? First off, we are being told to only travel if absolutely necessary – which makes sense. Secondly, trains will be going much, much slower to ovoid overheating engines and tracks to avoid issues like this. And third, the rail networks are painting their train tracks white. I’m sorry – what? Painting them white?

Turns out, train tracks can actually be almost 70°F (20°C) hotter than the air temperature. Unfortunately, heat and train tracks do not mix. Steel, when exposed to high temperatures, expands and for train tracks without gaps will buckle.[2] To combat that risk, Dan Collins from Network Rail, says, “We paint them white, it reflects the sunlight, and we’re able to reduce the rail temperatures by up to five degrees.”[3] Painting the rails white actually keeps the rails 40°F (5°C) to 50°F (10°C) cooler.[4]

So now that I know about painting the tracks white, I wonder what “paint the town red” means?


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