Back to map

Securing Rail Shipping in a Warming Climate

Submitted by Élyse Fournier 14th August 2017 17:27

U.S. Department of Transport, 2014


Higher temperatures increase the risk of rail buckling with implications on the safety of rail transportation of crude oil and coal. Crude oil shipments by rail spiked from 9500 carloads in 2009 to nearly 400,000 carloads in 2013, which might contribute to the increasing vulnerability to extreme weather. Extreme heat waves expand the metal causing the rail to bend and buckle, a phenomenon known as "sun kinks". In 2008, a US Geological Survey study on climate change impact on transportation systems on the Gulf Coast concluded that an average temperature increase of 2 °F or 3 °F in this region could have a significant effect on train tracks buckling. To reduce the vulnerability of its rail infrastructure, the US Federal Railroad Administration has adopted new safety standards. Furthermore, the US Department of Transportation is working with the University of California-San Diego to develop devices that enable railroads to monitor rail temperatures.

At a Glance

Industry sector: Transmission, Distribution, and Transfer
Type of resources: Gas Oil Coal
Type of energy: Fuel
Adaptation type: Informational Monitoring equipment and technology Management Design and operation standards, guidelines, tools and schedules
Organization: Federal Highway Administration U.S. Geological Survey Cambridge Systematics
Organization type: Consultant Government