Tracks on Fire: Keeping Train Tracks Thawed

Winter has a habit of freezing progress in its tracks. Snow and ice can make roads unsafe to travel on, bury runways, and cause fuels to thicken. Even railroads can’t escape the damage done by Jack Frost.

In fact, railroads have to deal with some of the most dangerous effects of snow and ice. Track switches that freeze up lead to costly delays, as well as the potential for derailments. Keeping tracks thawed and switches ice-free is critical for operating a safe and efficient railroad.  

The Long Island Railroad uses a variety of methods to keep their switches from freezing, even by setting their rails on fire. According to the Long Island Railroad blog, electricity, natural gas, kerosene oil and a hydrocarbon oil called Hexane, are used every winter across the railway to ensure switches are thawed and operational.

rail heating
Gas heating along a rail line keeps the tracks thawed and operational.

These days on the LIRR, most switch heaters are electric. They are made up of high resistance metal bars that are bolted to the sides of the running rail. One end is grounded to the running rail and the other end is tied to the third rail through a knife switch in a little box. Most are activated onsite, but there are some that are remote controlled.

rail heating
Workers monitor tracks as they thaw with help from natural gas.

The gas powered switch heaters are older: vestiges from an age when electric power was expensive and unreliable and gas was cheap. The gas powered heaters would keep a place like Jamaica open even if electric power failed. Today the gas heaters use natural gas that is provided by the utility companies (at one time they used manufactured gas from coal). The gas to these heaters is supplied by a one-and-a-half inch pipe with a globe valve down in a pit near the switch. A mechanic from the LIRR’s Buildings and Bridges department turns on the gas and lights it with a fuse. Then the winds blow it out.

rail heating
Some railroads use a snowblower to thaw rails. The heat blast eliminates ice build up, but the process is slow.

These days it is the gas heaters which are less than reliable; they blow out in high wind and have to be re-lit (a tricky task in the middle of rush hour).

The LIRR still also uses the really old “switch pots” which are filled with kerosene and burn a wick under the switch points. These are maintained by the track department. Trackmen work through the storms filling and lighting these.

And no story about switches and ice can be complete without mentioning “switch oil.” To thaw out frozen switches, trackmen use Hexane, a hydrocarbon oil that is dumped along the rail from a long snouted can that looks like a flower watering can. Another trackman follows the first with a blazing broom that was soaked in the stuff which he uses to light up the oiled switches. The goop burns for fifteen minutes, effectively de-icing the frozen switch. 

ground thawing warming blanket
Ground thawing blankets eliminate the need for costly heating systems and are easily portable.

There is an easier way, of course, to keep rail switches thawed during winter storms. Introducing: Powerblanket Extra-Hot Ground Thawing Blankets. These provide a cheaper, more efficient method to prevent delays that come from iced tracks.

Simply plug the blanket into an electrical source, and the thawing begins. With a preset of 150 ͒ F, the rapid thaw blanket is a maintenance-free heating solution that reduces downtime, eliminates headaches associated with frozen ground, and saves money.

Reliance on manual labor or antiquated heating methods can stay where they belong: in the past. Use the Extra-Hot Ground Thawing Blankets to keep rail switches thawed, passengers safe, and trains on time.

Grave Digger Solutions: Unthawing cold ground with Powerblanket

North America experiences a variety of weather patterns during the winter months. However, most of the continent will undergo cold enough temperatures that freeze the upper layers of ground soil.

This can be highly problematic for those needing to dig into the ground during the winter. Projects that normally take a few hours worth of digging now takes days to unthaw and break through the frozen topsoil.

Image taken from www.adventuresincemeteryhopping.com.

Powerblanket’s Ground Thawing Blankets were essential in saving the Hailey Cemetery time and money during the Idaho Winter of 2017. Wayne Burke, maintenance supervisor for the cemetery, said that winter was colder and less wet than years previous, causing the soil to freeze much deeper than normal.

“There’s usually six inches of snow on the ground,” Burke said, adding that the snow acts as a layer of insulation, preventing the ground from freezing as much. “It always worked out great. But last year it got really cold and there was no snow.”

Burke knew he needed solutions fast to meet the demand of the cemetery’s burial service schedule. He reached out to Powerblanket, and within two days of ordering, received his Ground Thawing Blanket.

“You guys sent it just in time. I used it the first day, and only had it on for 12 hours. It still worked,” he said. “A few weeks later, I needed it again. We also loaned it to another cemetery and they were really happy with how it worked too.”

In years prior Burke said he used propane torches to thaw the soil before digging. In addition, the cemetery landscaping had to be torn up and replaced after each dig.

“It worked perfect,” he said. “It thawed about 14 inches down into the ground. The grass greened up and I was able to cut it up into strips and roll it up. The sod was in good shape and I stored it in our garage. After the burial we put the dirt back in a rolled the sod back out. Normally we tear the sod up and throw it away and replant it in the springtime.”

Burke said the Ground Thawing Blanket was exactly what he needed to break through the tough winter soil, saving him hours of manual labor and nearly $100 in landscaping.

“I was really happy with it, and we’ll be using it again this year,” he said.

Ground Thawing Blankets: Prep Frozen Ground with Powerblanket

When it’s cold and the ground is frozen, your job suffers. Thaw frozen ground and get back to work quickly with Ground Thawing Blankets from Powerblanket.

Winter is an interesting beast, especially for those who make their livelihood working outside.  Often prep takes longer than the actual job itself.  Powerblanket has considered the difficulties and delays associated with cold and freezing temperatures and has created a solution.  With Powerblanket’s patented heating technology you can prep the ground with little to no effort or supervision on your part. 

Ground Thawing for Commercial Plumbing

A south-central Utah plumber said, “I wish I had known about Powerblanket’s ground thawing blankets a couple years ago.  We had a job in Mount Pleasant that got so cold that we couldn’t dig.  We started laying out thermal blankets every night to avoid the hard freeze that happened overnight.  We had to layer the thermal blankets in order to keep the ground warm enough to work each morning.  Our progress was slow and labored, and we never knew what we would find at the job site each morning.  It would have been so much easier if we had had Powerblankets.”

Some industrial companies also try heating the ground with massive coils or large heating systems, which becomes expensive and cumbersome. This approach requires rental fees, transporting equipment, and a bit more money than the bid allows.  Your ground thawing blanket can be used over and over on any frozen job you have.

The high power density in Powerblanket Ground Thawing Blankets helps tackle the difficulty of thawing ground in harsh climates. This line of Powerblanket flat blankets has a higher power density and hotter temperature than our concrete curing blankets. The higher temperatures are ideal for ground thawing applications and curing epoxy or resins.

Why Powerblanket Ground Thawing Blankets?

  • High power density thaws frozen ground quickly
  • Remove frost prior to concrete pour
  • Melt snow and ice from roofs, walkways, and construction areas
  • Easily placed and removed
  • Can be used to cure epoxy and resins

Learn More Here

Grave Digging and Ground Thawing

We’re gradually approaching warmer weather now, but it’ll still be some time before the ground thaws and makes digging a lot less difficult. That’s why we’d like to introduce you to our Ground Thawing Blankets. For those in concrete, grave digging, utility maintenance, or any other digging / ground-prep-related project, Powerblanket® Ground Thawing Blankets can be a really big help.

image-ground-thawing-blanketsFrom Grave Digging to Concrete Prep

Whether you’re laying concrete or preparing a funeral plot, our ground thawing blankets can make the process a whole lot easier. Powerblanket Ground Thawing blankets help to thaw frozen ground prior to digging. And in the case of preparing ground for a funeral in the winter or early spring, ground-thawing assistance can make the process run a lot smoother. Here are some words from a satisfied customer who used our ground thawing blankets for their business:

“Your blankets are absolutely excellent. Thanks to Powerblanket, we were able to quickly thaw the ground and complete our job. In fact, we estimate a savings of 10 hours per site, equaling a savings of $5,000 already. Calculating this into our thousands of sites, the savings are huge! We are excited about the time and money Powerblanket has saved us and look forward to future savings.”

Our patented blend of technology and our use of durable materials enable us to deliver high watt density throughout the entire area of application, making ground thawing through electrical heat transfer safe and highly efficient. So when it comes to preparing a plot for burial, use our ground thawing blankets to make the task much easier.

Why Powerblanket® Ground Thawing Blankets?

  • High watt density thaws frozen ground fast
  • Quickly remove frost prior to digging
  • Melt snow and ice from ground prior to digging
  • Easily installed and removed
  • Easily transportable
  • Safe and certified to national safety standards

Some Things to Remember

Remember that thawing ground goes a lot faster if you first manually remove as much snow and ice as you can.  If you have a foot of snow, remove it all, then apply the blankets.  A foot of snow can add a day to the process if not removed first.

Secondly, thawing frozen ground through a layer of grass can be problematic.  The grass tends to hold the blanket up and away from the frozen ground, making the thawing process much longer than it would be with bare ground.  If a Powerblanket ground thawing blanket is left in place too long, it WILL kill the turf. So if keeping the turf healthy and intact is the goal, then don’t use a ground thawing blanket. However, if you’re trying to thaw the ground for digging purposes, then remove the grass first.