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.

Custom Tank Heaters: The Perfect Approach to Heating Solutions


custom tank heatersIt would be absolutely ridiculous to assume that all tanks come in the same shapes and sizes, whether they hold water, gas, chemicals, or some other matter. We all know that this simply isn’t the case. While there are certainly standard measurements for specialty gas tanks, water tanks, and others, the range of variance between size, construction, and purpose is vast enough that there simply isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for tank protection. That’s why Powerblanket® Custom Tank Heaters are the perfect approach to the need for a heating solution.

 

Customized for Your Tanks and Needs

Regardless of the size of your tank, the purpose it serves, or its shape, Powerblanket can help you protect it against cold weather and keep it running at the ideal temperature year round. Our custom approach to providing tailored heating solutions to a myriad of industries and applications has allowed hundreds of customers to protect their precious assets from the ravages of cold weather.

In addition to freeze protection, our custom tank heaters enable increased efficiency in gas and other kinds of tanks. Anywhere flow rates and extraction rates are affected by temperature, Powerblanket custom tank heaters can ensure the flow of liquids and extraction of gas is always at its best. Take, for example, the nature of a gas such as propane.

When gases are stored in tanks, they are stored under considerable pressure. Due to this fact, they reside in the tank in both a liquid and gaseous state. Extracting a gas means you must evaporate some of the liquid and that evaporation process requires an input of heat energy. If the gas extraction rate is fast enough, it could cause the tank to frost up and the extraction to be impeded. However, with a custom Powerblanket propane tank heater you can keep the extraction flowing fast and full, without the side effect of frosting or icing.

What’s more, whether a tank holds gas or liquid, freezing temperatures pose big problems. Using a custom tank heater allows you to fully insulate and heat your tank to whatever temperature is best, regardless of the surrounding climate.

 

custom Powerblanket tank heater wrapped around a large tankGetting a custom tank heater from Powerblanket is as easy as 1, 2, 3:

  1. Contact us with the details of your application.
  2. We’ll design a custom tank heater for your application, based on your information and feedback.
  3. We’ll build your custom solution and ship it to you within two weeks. (Sometimes, we can even turn a project around in as little as one week.)

 

In the end, there’s no reason to leave your tank out in the cold. Powerblanket can cover it and keep it safe and functioning well through the most inclement weather.

 

 

Heating and Hazardous Locations

Working in hazardous locations means you have to exercise serious caution regarding procedure, protocol, and equipment usage. What’s more, heating in hazardous locations takes all the more care and detail to make certain you aren’t adding fuel to a potential fire. This is why Powerblanket offers products certified to national safety standards.

 

CID2Class I Division 1 and Class I Division 2

We understand that hazardous location heating is nothing to take lightly. And we understand that heating products should be engineered to the highest standards of quality and safety. We’ve based our business on this simple reality and are able to customize our safe and innovative heating solutions to a myriad of industries because of it. In fact, our custom heating solutions can be designed and certified to Class I Division 1 (CID1) or Class I Division 2 (CID2) safety standards. We are certified for all four gas Groups, A, B, C, and D and up to a T4 Temperature Classification.  Many people who work in hazardous locations are familiar with these terms. For everyone else, here’s an explanation.

The classifications referenced as CID1 and CID2 regard the operation of electronic equipment in hazardous locations. CID1 is the identifier used for locations where ignitable concentrations of flammable gases, mists or vapors could possibly exist under normal working conditions. This classification also covers locations where the same gases, mists or vapors may exist frequently due to repairs or maintenance in the area. It also includes potential scenarios where gases, mists or vapors could be leaked by faulty or damaged equipment.

CID2, on the other hand, represents all locations where concentrations of flammable gases and/or vapors and/or mists are present in the air under operating conditions outside of the norm. So CID1 covers areas where such hazards are normally present, and CID2 covers areas where such hazards aren’t normally present but certainly could be under abnormal circumstances. Most importantly, if a product is CID1 or CID2 certified, it means that product is safe to use in locations that are CID1 or CID2 rated hazardous locations.

Powerblanket provides products that are certified to either of these hazardous location equipment safety standards. So when it comes to heating in hazardous areas, Powerblanket is both an efficient and safe choice. In addition to these ratings, Powerblanket products are also certified to UL, and CSA standards. Our innovative approach to providing industry-specific heating solutions has helped our customers save a lot of time and resources to safeguard and increase efficiency among the assets that keep their businesses running. So whether it’s freeze protection, viscosity maintenance, curing assistance, or some other heat-related dilemma, Powerblanket can help, even if you operate in a hazardous location.

 

Propane Tanks and How to Care for Them

Whether you’re a homeowner who relies on propane for heating, or a business leader who uses if for industrial purposes, propane is a versatile and important commodity. However, as helpful as propane is to us, we often overlook the need of caring for our propane tanks year round.

 

Propane_Tanks_GuideCaring for Your Propane: Tank and All

When it comes to caring for your propane storage, it’s imperative that you have a working knowledge of your tank and all the potential threats that could impede its proper functionality. Understanding the warning signs of a damaged or inefficient tank is important, not only for reasons of economical operation, but for the safety of all involved.

Several factors play into the safe and efficient operation of any size propane tank. These factors include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Shutting off valves when the tank is not in use
  • Keeping reserve tanks at a minimum
  • Not leaving portable propane tanks inside a vehicle
  • Securing portable tanks properly
  • Replacing weathered and/or worn canisters

Knowing how to properly manage all these aspects of propane storage and usage is very important. But there are many other factors to consider, too. Matters such as storage, setup, protection, government regulations, and the warning signs of hazardous circumstances are equally important. For more information on how to care for your propane and the tank in which you keep it. Access our free e-book below.

Insulated Band Heaters vs. Traditional Band Heaters

If you’ve dealt with traditional band heaters, then perhaps you have some reservations regarding the usefulness, efficiency, and safety of such a solution. If you’ve never heard of insulated band heaters, then you’re in for a treat. Here we compare the two to see who comes out on top.

 

Insulated band heatersInsulated Band Heaters vs Traditional Band Heaters

In one corner we have the long-standing, often-used traditional band heater, and in the other corner, we have the heavy-hitting, highly efficient insulated band heater. Let’s start with comparing maximum temperatures. Traditional band heaters can heat as high as 400° F, insulated band heaters, well, they can too. Here’s what that looks like:

 

Traditional Band Heater Insulated Band Heater
Heats as high as 400° F Heats as high as 400° F

 

Traditional Band Heaters: 1 pt.

Insulated Band Heaters: 1 pt.

 

Next, we look at heating efficiency. Traditional band heaters use anywhere from 600-1200 watts of electricity to heat the material inside a barrel or drum. What’s more, a good portion of this is wasted as heat is lost to the air around the heater. Insulated band heaters, on the other hand, don’t lose as much energy to their surroundings. With insulated band heaters, much more heat is channeled into the product, and much less into the thin air.

 

Traditional Band Heater Insulated Band Heater
Wastes a lot of energy Delivers energy to the load

 

Traditional Band Heaters: -1 pt.

Insulated Band Heaters: 2 pt.

 

And finally, when it comes to that most important topic of safety, insulated band heaters win out here too. Traditional band heaters can be extremely hazardous. Since they’re heating as high as 400° F, this means their non-insulated, external temperature is about the same. Essentially, you have a belted band of silicone wrapped around your drum or barrel that is as hot as 400° on the surface. If something touches this on accident, it could mean fire or third-degree burns. Insulated band heaters are a lot safer. Since they’re insulated, the surface that is exposed to the user  is safe to touch.

 

Traditional Band Heater Insulated Band Heater
Hazardous (fire hazard and burn hazard) Safe to touch when installed and running

 

 

Traditional Band Heaters: -1 pt.

Insulated Band Heaters: 2 pt.

 

So this puts the final score of the comparison at…

 

Traditional Band Heater Insulated Band Heater
Heats as high as 400° F (1 pt.) Heats as high as 400° F (1 pt.)
Wastes a lot of energy (-1 pt.) Delivers energy to the load (2 pts.)
Hazardous (fire hazard and burn hazard) (-1 pt.) Safe to touch when installed and running. (2 pts.)

 

Traditional Band Heaters: -1 pt.

Insulated Band Heaters: 5 pts.

We’ll let you do the math from here.

 

Do Railroad Operations Benefit from Heating Solutions?

Train yard in the snowRailroad operations, like other industries, need to be prepared with heating solutions from the effects of seasonal climate change. The diversified winter patterns that include snow, ice, wind, storms, and temperature fluctuation can all influence effective operations.

For this reason, preparations need to be made that take the following issues into consideration:

  • Snow and Ice Melting or Thawing
  • Signal and Instrument Freeze Protection
  • Sustainable Equipment Operation
  • Propane Tank Maintenance
  • Temperature-Sensitive Product Storage

While other applications need to be addressed, these are a few of the more obvious.

It goes without saying that railway safety and the achievement of economic efficiencies are priorities for the entire industry.  There are several areas of concern but few are more important in realizing these objectives than:

  1. Maintenance of Way
  2. Signals and Communications
  3. Scanners
  4. Hot Box Detectors (HBD)
  5. Dragging Equipment Detectors (DED)
  6. Wayside Detectors Systems

Each of these areas has their own specialized equipment needs, but both take heating solutions into account when addressing the challenges of winter weather.  For example, products such as greases, lubricants, and chemicals used in day-to-day maintenance can pose an application problem. These products are usually stored in drums, pails, totes, or large tank.  The viscosity due to cold climate may restrict their use, thus delaying the maintenance process.  Heating these products prior to application prevents downtime.  Prevention of downtime in turn saves money and keeps operations on schedule.

At first glance some of these matters may seem less than critical in nature.  When you consider the impact of railroad transport on the overall economy, the equation changes.  According to the American Association of Railroads, six commodities account for over 75% of the shipping Tons Originated and 69% of the Gross Revenue for railroad transport. These commodity categories are:

  • Coal
  • Chemicals & Applied Products
  • Farm Products
  • Non-Metallic Minerals
  • Miscellaneous Mixed Shipments
  • Food & Kindred Products

Perhaps you ask what purpose or significance these statistics serve. The costs associated with impeding on-time delivery of goods and services can have an effect both economically and environmentally. What this points out is the significance of advanced planning in anticipation of seasonal and climatic changes. This includes cold-weather heating solutions, which can impact some geographic areas for six months to an entire year. Benefits of an effective heating solution are:

  • Prevent snow and ice buildup from impeding  service levels
  • Provide freeze protection for continuous operation
  • Keep signals, communication equipment and instrumentation operational
  • Ensure accurate transmittal of incident data
  • Reduce transportation slowdowns, delays, and stoppages
  • Maintain schedules and on-time delivery of goods

Do railway operations benefit from effective heating solutions? We at Powerblanket believe our heating products are an integral part of keeping America’s rail network running. Contact us at 888.316.6324 or [email protected] to get in touch with our railroad heating products specialists.