CHICAGO – Using fire to keep warm is nothing new, especially for train tracks in the Windy City.
Metra, a commuter rail system, posted a video showing flames coming from train tracks in Chicago on Monday.
And while it may seem like the tracks are on fire, they're technically not.
"There are actually gas burners right next to the switches," Michael Gillis, Director of Communications for Metra, says. "It's like it's like a kitchen stovetop, the gas stovetop."
The switch heaters are located alongside the train tracks to keep them heated all winter long.
"We have about 500 switches in our system, and you really want to keep them warm and keep moisture out of them because you don't want them freezing up," Gillis said.
Doing so helps to keep the trains moving safely.
"We rely on the switches to change lanes, essentially, or across another track. And for us to operate the service we have, we need to be able to switch the train back and forth track," Gillis said. "So, they're there to keep the switches well and operational so that we can continue operating in our service."
Gillis said that the location in the video is unique because of how many gas burners are at that specific location. And while the efficiency is there, not all train tracks in the Chicagoland area have them.
"Metra was formed in 1984 out of a bunch of predecessor railroads, and that switching location was built by predecessor railroads decades before Metro ever came into being. And at the time, those gas burners were how you put switch heaters on switches," Gillis said.
Newer railways have more modern switches that don't use gas burners.
"We use like hot air blowers, so it's like a hairdryer to keep the switch warm. And then in other locations, we'll use like electrified metal, like a curling iron to keep the switch as metal," Gillis said.
And whether it's hot air blowers, electrified metal or a more fiery approach, the idea is the same -- do what needs to be done to keep moisture out to keep commuters safe.
More than a half-foot of snow fell over the weekend, and a big warmup for Chicago is not forecasted any time soon.