The sparks are flying—literally!—in this eerily beautiful video footage of fires lit on the tracks of Chicago’s famed El train this week, meant to keep the trains running during the worst cold snap to hit the area in almost a generation.
The Arctic blast that struck Chicago on January 28th and 29th was described by the National Weather Service as “brutal, historic, and potentially life-threatening.” No kidding! We’ve heard reports that the temperatures dropped into double digits below zero—that it’s so cold, mere minutes of exposure to the air can cause frostbite to set in. That’s cold!
The footage in this video shows sections of burning railway on Chicago’s Union Pacific West Line on Monday, January 28th.
Why Are They Doing It?
Chicago’s Metra railway authority, charged with the task of keeping the trains running, and safe from pull-aparts (which can cause derailment and serious injury to passengers), no matter how unforgiving the weather might get, explained the track fires and the science behind them in an Instagram post on January 21st: .
“Pull-aparts are rail defects in which two rails separate at their connection. They occur in extreme cold when the metal shrinks and the rails literally pull apart from each other. How Metra forces make repairs is by warming the metal with fire until it expands and the two rails can be reconnected.”
By around 6:50pm local time on Tuesday the 29th, the National Weather Service in Chicago said that temperatures in Rockford, Illinois, fell below zero between 3pm and 4pm, and would most likely not rise above zero until Friday morning, at the earliest.
The temperature recorded at Chicago O’Hare Airport also reached sub-zero temperatures before 6pm, and the National Weather Service noted that the temps would stay that cold until Thursday, if not longer. The result?
This unexpectedly lovely video—all shades of blue, gray, and white, the calming tranquility of which is periodically broken by bright orange flames licking up from the train tracks.
It’s definitely hypnotizing, as fire usually is for us humans, and we’re sure that Chicago area commuters, making the long trek to work in the unforgiving cold, appreciated this little spark of visual and literal warmth to accompany them on their voyage.
It’s the little things in life, after all. Still, we’re pretty sure they’ll be even happier once the temperatures finally warm up enough that lighting the tracks on fire is no longer necessary.