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Railroad workers busy inspecting tracks for heat damage

Omaha-based Union Pacific, which has more than 1,100 miles of track in Oklahoma, is having workers check railways daily for ‘sun kink.'
From staff and wire reports Published: July 22, 2011

Railroad workers are inspecting tracks in Oklahoma daily due to an intense heat wave that can cause metal railroad rails to expand and buckle

Omaha-based Union Pacific Railroad said Wednesday the heat has affected the operations of its entire northern division and that it's having workers inspect its tracks up to twice a day. The company has 1,173 miles of track in Oklahoma.

“In extreme heat, you get a phenomenon called a ‘track buckle' or ‘sun kink,'” Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis said. “When you get extreme heat and the metal rail wants to expand, it looks for a weak spot in the track structure itself to do that.

“What will literally happen is, the track will bend in either direction at the weakest point of the track structure.”

Crews often cut out sections of track, rejoin the ends and weld the track back together to handle the heat-related expansion, Davis said, which has kept the railroad from having any serious problems with rail kinking during the heat wave.

But the heat has forced the railroad to slow its trains by 10 to 20 mph, said Davis.

“It may reduce the efficiency of the overall operations on a corridor, but the temporary reductions of efficiencies outweigh the possibility of a derailment,” he said.

Daily inspections are being planned for early in the morning, before the heat becomes most intense, said Raquel Espinoza, a spokeswoman for Union Pacific's southern region.

Workers are encouraged to drink three or four bottles of water an hour. The company is providing some with vests and hard hats equipped with cooling pads.

“These are extreme temperatures, and we want to make sure we keep our employees safe,” she said.


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