Broken rails, like the one that blocked the Red Line MBTA train early Thursday afternoon, are a common problem on train systems around the country, said Martin Schroeder, chief engineer at the American Public Transportation Association. It’s simple physics, he said: As the temperature nosedives, the rails can contract, causing them to snap off their bearings.
Some train delays, he said, could also occur as train operators slow down in the cold to watch out for broken rails and lessen the impact if they do hit a broken one.
Some of the cold weather problems, he said, can be prevented with cutting-edge technology that help eliminate condensation, which affects brake systems. But it is a constant battle for most any transportation system, he said.
“When you get delays in passenger train systems, it’s for a good reason, because they want to be as safe as possible,” Schroeder said.
Wintry weather poses a challenge for other transit systems, including the Chicago Transit Authority, where cold weather occasionally causes problems with electrical switches or rail car doors, spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski said. But because the Chicago Transit Authority staff conducts inspections before bouts of cold weather, they usually experience few problems in single-digit temperatures.
“We have limited issues because we take preventative measures,” Hosinski said.
For Boston-area commuters like Erica Mattison, 31, of Dorchester, who takes the Red Line from Ashmont Station to Downtown Crossing almost daily, crowded platforms and trains caused by the weather delays meant arriving to work late and grumpy Thursday.
“It took something like 40 minutes, when normal travel time is about 20 minutes,” Mattison said. “It makes for a frustrated bunch of people.”
Mattison said the delays began at the Ashmont Station, where riders had packed onto the platform, and compounded at each stop.
“It was very crowded and basically standing room only, moreso than usual because you had a pileup of people,” she said. “It was difficult for people getting off at later stops, because the train was too packed. It was all pretty chaotic.”