CTA Prepared for Cold Weather
Keeping the trains and buses running is a year-long job for the Chicago Transit Authority. During the winter months, its difficulties are compounded by freezing temperatures and varied snowfall.
“Cold weather ages transportation infrastructure at a troublesome rate in a difficult way,” said Joseph Schwieterman, professor of DePaul University. “Especially the chilling and thawing process is extremely hard on roads and railroad tracks.”
The CTA prepares for the winter months in advance, said CTA Spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney. Many of these preparations include ensuring that the proper tools and equipment are available should the need arise. The CTA garages stocks are updated in case equipment or machinery needs to be replaced and conducts regular inspections, she said
In addition to preparations, the CTA constantly checks current conditions.
“There’s a lot we do in advance of winter that we just we’re going to need to have done,” said Gaffney. “But we also monitor the weather and if there is sleet or snow forecast, we respond accordingly with making sure the proper resources and staff are in place when snow does come.”
Trains are outfitted with sleet scrapers that remove ice from the rails as trains pass. Additionally, de-icing fluid is sprayed onto the rails when ice builds up. Snow plows are placed on the front cars to handle any snow banks that might pose a problem, Gaffney said.
Additionally, in case of difficulties that normal train operations can’t handle, CTA workers are on call to fix winter-related problems using special heavy equipment, she said.
“The other thing for trains when it gets really cold, switches freeze and that’s a huge problem for the CTA and Amtrak, especially when you have snow mixed in,” Schwieterman said.
Snow would become caught in the switches, preventing movement. Sometimes the electrical circuitry controlling the switches would freeze as well, but is not as common, Schwieterman said. To handle this particular problem, the CTA has heaters at switch locations which are activated by track workers allowing operations to continue and prevent derailment, Gaffney said.
The CTA doesn’t forget about the customers either. The station heaters are checked before the season and during times of snowfall, the CTA staff and outside firms are sent to shovel sand to prevent people from slipping, Gaffney said.
Ultimately, when it comes to cold weather, it depends on the conditions. How heavy or light the weather is and how long it lasts determines the CTA’s response, she said.
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