Eye-rolling groaner: ‘In the face of climate change can our engineers keep the trains running on time?’

From the FRONTIERS publication group and the “little engine that couldn’t, because climate change” department, comes this idiotic press-release masquerading as a science paper.

Engineering and maintaining railway bridges has always been difficult — climate change, however, creates a whole new level of challenge

Physicist Michio Kaku once said, “What we usually consider as impossible are simply engineering problems… there’s no law of physics preventing them.” And so it has been with railway and metro bridges that span waterways. The city of Washington, D.C., is bounded on two sides by rivers and an untold number of streams. Every morning the Orange Line, one of six train lines that serve the city, ferries 12,060 commuters — per hour. And this miracle occurs every day in Berlin, Tokyo, London, Amsterdam, Shanghai, and numerous other metropolitan areas. In the United Kingdom alone there are more than 40,000 railway bridges.

Much has been written on how to maintain this infrastructure, particularly in the difficult transition zones where trains leave land to ascend bridges over water. “All railway systems suffer rapid track deterioration at the transition zones requiring high maintenance costs,” said Sakdirat Kaewunruen, Ph.D., Department of Civil Engineering, University of Birmingham, United Kingdom. “In the past decades, there have been so many ad hoc solutions provided, but there has been no work on evaluating its life cycle cost and sustainability.”

Each nation has employed its own methodology for maintenance and repairs, but new, daunting challenges created by climate change — extreme heat, extreme cold, and severe flooding — require yet more rigorous solutions.

An unprecedented study titled, “Lifecycle Assessments of Railway Bridge Transitions Exposed to Extreme Events,” published in Frontiers in Built Environment, benchmarks the costs and carbon emissions for the life cycle of eight mitigation measures and reviews these methods for their effectiveness in three types of extreme environmental conditions.

Railway systems are designed for a 50-year lifespan, which is calculated on the integrity of the materials used, and most railways are built along one of two common track systems: rails set on railway ties (U.S.A.) or sleepers (UK), which are then ‘ballasted’ into beds of rock or gravel; or rails that are set onto concrete slabs. Sometimes both are used on one rail line with one transiting to the other. In either case, the engineering feat that must be solved is that as the train crosses the transition between ground and bridge, the relative stiffness of the bedrock, concrete, vs. metal bridge can impart intense vibrations that drastically impact the train rails and even make the ride uncomfortable to commuters. Transition zones require four to eight times more maintenance than ordinary rail tracks.

The study investigates mitigation measures for bridges that span 30 meters and 100 meters. The study reviews the eight most common techniques for bridge transitions, including: under ballast mats (UBMs), soft baseplates, under sleeper pads (USPs), rail pads, embankment treatments, transition slabs, ballast bonding, and wide sleepers. Overall, the study finds that elastic rail pads, soft baseplates, and UBMS are most suitable for short-span bridges, relying on a range of materials such as elastic materials, chloroprene rubber, or polymeric compounds to provide reduce railway stiffness. Unfortunately, the same materials that provide elasticity deteriorate faster in extreme heat and extreme cold, conditions that have become more frequent with climate change. For reference, the materials tend to exhibit sensitivity at 20 degrees C and severe problems in the dead of winter at -40 degrees C in the far northern latitudes.

For long bridges the authors recommended employing transition slabs, ballast bonding, and embankment treatments — methods that mitigate track stiffness gradually with longer transitions. These solutions tend to be greatly affected by flash flooding that can wash away embankments and ballast that supports the track structure. In some areas of Norway flooding has turned sediments into mud causing train tracks to collapse.

“Global warming and climate change… increase the renewal and wear rates of lubrication materials, as well as the possibility of track twisting and buckling,” said Kaewunruen in an earlier paper with Lei Wu, who is currently working on the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Railway.

In this study, the authors provide engineering assumptions and sample calculations for their recommendations, but also stress that solutions need to be developed on a case-by-case basis, taking into account cost over the life cycle, environmental factors, and the impact high maintenance can have on the carbon footprint. Furthermore, cost of materials and of maintenance can range widely from country to country.

“Climate change is a significant issue for every industry in the world,” said Kaewunruen. “Next we will analyze scenarios with multiple hazards. We have been informed that some events may come together, for example an earthquake at the same time as extreme heat, or extreme wind at the same time as extreme rainfall or runoff. Bridges respond to different events individually, but when you have multiple hazards simultaneously they can suffer even greater impacts.”



83 thoughts on “Eye-rolling groaner: ‘In the face of climate change can our engineers keep the trains running on time?’

  1. Sakdirat shouldn’t get his panties in a twist. The engineers will figure it out. We always do.

    • trains will always run on time – they will just legislate a variable daylight savings time so the clocks fit the schedule.

      • Sort of like, “Is that the 10:02? But its 11:15…”
        “You must set your watch by it.”

    • Yes, we always do.
      The climate change issue is a red herring. As correctly pointed out in the article the issue is an engineering problem. It is an age old problem where there exist abrupt stiffness changes in a structure under load. This is not particular to any field of engineering. Buildings, auto, aircraft… all possess similar transitions. Where the rail bed transitions from a relatively stiff grounded bed to a far more flexible bridge the load concentration at the transition is a big problem. However it is not insurmountable.

      • “Where the rail bed transitions from a relatively stiff grounded bed to a far more flexible bridge the load concentration at the transition is a big problem.”

        Other way ’round actually. The rail is much more flexible where it’s ballasted on the ground versus being physically attached to the bridge structure. One solution is renovating or replacing bridges so the ballast can be extended onto the bridge.

      • While the bridge itself can be more flexible than a grounded roadbed, the bridge abutments that carry the load are very stiff. In highway design this is the “bump at the bridge syndrome”.

        This paper seems like a typical update of the state of the art in design, with a review of the issue and recommended solutions. Only the final three paragraphs reference “an earlier paper” where the authors pay obligatory homage to climate change as a factor in design.

    • Sakdirat is an engineer. Also an MBA. When he wrote this .. I can’t find a polite word .. he had his MBA hat on.

  2. Since railway tracks and bridges are obviously subject to weather extremes in their locality, engineers should only design with those imposed constraints in mind. After all, the article states: “Railway systems are designed for a 50-year lifespan, which is calculated on the integrity of the materials used,…” So why worry about long-term climate change if materials and methods are changed every 50 years?

  3. Engineering and Planning have achieved wonders in may cities across the World. Yet, in Houston Texas, where Politics rule the day-to-day lives of more than 2 million, the Mayor – Police Chief – City Council for more than three regimes have laid a trap for for the Federal Government Money, just waiting for that ONE STORM to “Fund” them all! And now they have it! The Federal money being poured into Houston will fund the lifestyles of the Rich and Greedy, like the mayor “Charles In Charge” and many others. The flooding is and was Man-made by political design.

    • “The flooding is and was Man-made by political design”
      Umm… Evidence?

      When a tropical system dumps 50-60 inches of rain over a flat major metropolitan area In the space of 3-5 days IT WILL FLOOD. JOhn, it’s time to retire the tinfoil hat.

      • It sure is a wonderful thing that Mother Nature has provided humanity so many “floodplains” that are both a beautiful and non-costly location for constructing homes and businesses on.

      • As there has been no significant warming since 1988 and even the alarmists admit to a 20 year hiatus, why are these clowns so worried about climate change, pretending that we are warming when we really are not? We are cooling, since 2006 and they are clueless.

      • higley,
        It looks to me to be ‘Publish or be damned!’ – even in Railroad Engineering [or MBAdom].


    • Thank you for an explanation that lies in with Occam’s Razor – the simplest one which explains it all.

  4. “We have been informed that some events may come together, for example an earthquake at the same time as extreme heat, or extreme wind at the same time as extreme rainfall or runoff. Bridges respond to different events individually, but when you have multiple hazards simultaneously they can suffer even greater impacts.”

    Well, I am glad that someone informed them of this. I am not sure what planet they were living on before, but here on Earth, this has always been true. For example, extreme wind and extreme rain can happen at the same time. We have names for these events: tropical cyclones, severe thunderstorms, tornadoes and nor’easters, to name just a few. They have been around for a while now…maybe billions of years, so I am unsure why these engineers have just been informed of this.

    Will man-made climate change have a huge impact on this? So far there is no evidence it is having any impact at all. But it is possible that it could increase extreme events in some areas and decrease extreme events in others. This makes no difference in how one engineers for weather extremes. For example, if man-made climate change increases your risk of being struck by a hurricane from 1 every 50 years to one every 45 years, there would be no difference in how you build your home, business or bridge. The same is true if man-made climate change increased the average highest temperature of the year from 97 degrees F to 100 degrees F. The engineering is just the same. It doesn’t change the engineering challenge at all.

    I miss science!

    • Good point….Pachauri was billed as a “Railway Engineer” which … as I understand it in Indian terminology ….. means he actually drove puffing..billies.

    • Rocketscientist,
      Yes Timoshenko solved all those “theory of Elasticity” problems before we had the Finite Element tool which Engineers now use as a crutch. Hope you did not read his books before you went to sleep.

  5. This offering must be approaching Terminal Stupidity even for the World of Global Warming/Climate Change. “Eye-Rolling Groaner” sums it up well.

  6. There is no mention of anthropogenic global warming, let alone catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. Perhaps this acknowledges the inconvenient truth of the highly constrained scientific domain. Positive progress.

  7. “Analysis of the global mean surface air temperature has shown that its increase is due, at least in part, to differential changes in daily maximum and minimum temperatures, resulting in a narrowing of the diurnal temperature range (DTR)” 1997 Easterling et al (“Maximum and Minimum Temperature Trends for the Globe”, Science, Vol.227, July 1997.

    Consequently structures like railway bridges should be subject to less temperature-caused stresses and fatigue due to ‘Settled Science’™.

  8. When people talk of extremes as if they are intensifying, I say”Show me some extremes”. I live in Melbourne, Australia. I have not felt or seen extreme climate anything. So, what is a good reference for me to read, so I know what an extreme looks like? I would like to see one of these rare events before I turn 80 soon. Geoff

  9. Running a railway is expensive. The cost of maintenance for track and roadway is around a quarter of the operating cost. When you include capital costs, it becomes around a sixth or an eighth. link

    Increased maintenance costs are not going to be the one thing that breaks a railway.

    • What breaks a railway is when the maintenance budget is spent on things other than maintenance, and maintenance gets deferred or neglected.

    • Here in the NY Metro area, we have 3 commuter railways feeding NYC; Metro North, NJ Transit, and the LIRR (North, West and South, and East) In the last few years, the media have, strangely doing their job, found examples of people getting absurdly high salaries, like 400 in this case (http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/400-mta-workers-earned-salary-overtime-article-1.2559234) My second article points out ballooning pension and healthcare costs (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/21/mta-workers-overtime-making-100000_n_1616921.html), which is why the NY system is not getting the funding it needs for those bridges and tracks.

      I could post many more articles of this nature. Weather, even Sandy, is not the big expense we are worried about for our railways. People are.

      (I should note that my father was a MTA employee for 13 years ending 5 years ago. I heard about a lot of this waste from the inside, union, perspective where even he was annoyed.)

      • Here is one more from 7 years ago talking about the real problem…


        and the actual budget from the first 3 months of this year (with last year shown for comparision, it’s how they do it)


        pay attention to the 12th page, labeled page 10
        Jan 1 to March 31 2017
        Operating expenses (in millions of USD)
        Salaries and wages 1,464
        Retirement and other employee benefits 765
        Postemployment benefits other than
        pensions 499
        Depreciation and amortization 569
        Other expenses 714
        Total operating expenses 4,049
        Non-operating expenses
        Interest on long-term debt 402
        Other net non-operating expenses 1
        Total non-operating expenses 403
        Total expenses 4,452

        Notice that of the total expenses of $4.4B, $2.7B (61%) go to active or former employees. Another 9% is for servicing debt.

        It’s very clear, at least in NY what costs all the money.

  10. It is standard practice in UK universities to use ‘climate change’ to get funding for studies.
    This is a good piece of research about what types of construction are optimal for railway infrastructure.

    That only got done because it was spun into a climate change angle.

    In another case related to me personally, a study on the use of coal/metal oxide burning to produce a more efficient high temperature combustion was given a grant ‘because the output is pure carbon dioxide, more suitable for carbon capture’.

    Professors overseeing research are always mindful of their budgets and the need to use whatever is the political meme of the day to get the funding they need.

  11. Since both UHI and CO2 induced warming raise night time lows far more then day time highs, and CO2 theoretically increase polar T far more then tropical T, then in all cases, theoretically the phase transition of water to ice, and vice versa, should be reduced, as well as tornadoes and storms drive by colliding warm and cold air masses.

    So, theoretically CO2 should reduce stresses on roads, bridges, train tracks and trussels.

    • If you are offered say AU$150k p/a and have a tenured position and a fat pension at the end of it would you take it? I am pretty sure most people would.

    • It’s the “Intergovernmental” Panel. If you get it right, you have huge credibility to pour scorn on the alarmists who go on about their cause being the most important moral cause the planet has ever seen and who don’t even know what their reference for all knowledge about everything is called.

    • Nonsense. That railway line has suffered damage from storms ever since it was built in the 1840s. It has nothing to do with the climate or sea level. It is just natural storms, which are, and always have been, a regular feature of weather in Devon.

      • In fact this is the problem: The act of putting a sea wall with a railway on at the foot of a cliff makes erosion worse. It’s what Isambard Kingdom Brunel did at Dawlish in Devon. The beach at the foot of the wall is scoured out by the waves and the beach materials are no longer naturally replenished by rock falls from the cliffs. It’s a man-made problem, nothing at all to do with the mythical “climate change”.

      • From this and many other comments by Griff, I can only conclude that he believes the world was created in the 1980s. He seems to have no knowledge of events before that period.

    • “Griff August 30, 2017 at 1:10 am”

      You have no idea about storm damage to that line throughout history. It’s long an varied and NOTHING to do with climate change or anything to do with sea level rise. Most of that coast line, right the way up to Portsmouth, the Isle of Wight and beyond was way inland thousands of years ago. Most of that coast line we see now was created via erosion long before fossil fuels. You like to comment on other countries you know nothing about beyond your armchair and yet you don’t even know something about the south coast history or your own country.

      Puhlease Griff, stop opening your mouth to change your foot! It’s not a good look!

    • Griff

      Stick to see ice predictions, Oh wait you were dead wrong about that too.
      Maybe you should go back to slandering people, you have a skill there.

    • You call that flooding Griff? THIS is flooding!
      The tropical cyclone capital of Oz Griff. Just that hardly anyone lives there and old Gaia seems to have gone a bit sleepy in recent years if you check out that graph, but don’t let that worry you as she’ll be back again in a bad mood sometime. It’s called extreme weather but you don’t get to hear about it unless there’s lots of folks around with expensive homes and cars, etc.

      • The sad part is that spewing lies is all griffie has and he/it is this bad at it. Hopefully Soros is getting some serious, direct head time out of griffie, otherwise he is just getting ripped off.

  12. Oh dear, another mysterious rogue planet/assteroid/comet hurtling towards us with “Doom”written on its face. Don’t get me wrong, I view the dangers of a piece of space debris hitting Earth as serious but a piece of text written on a Pyramid in Egypt – please do us a favor. Having climbed around a good many pyramids and temples in Egypt I can reassure you – there are no concealed, coded or alien messages prophesying doom (written in what? Hieroglyphs? No, just standard dedication and religious texts. English? Welsh? Nope).
    On the other hand 23 September is the date of my wife’s birthday. I guess I better buy her an extra big bunch of flowers just in case.

    • Like in the 70’s, the wrong kind of leave, snow, rain etc used to cause cancellations. Now it’s simply wrong kind of climate so the trains can be late or cancelled for any reason at all.

      • Or the wrong sort of worker, as well.
        Now drivers on Southern Railways have been offered a pay increase from [about] £49000 to [about]£60000.
        For a four day week, still.
        With guaranteed overtime of one extra day – so about £75000 a year, for five [I think] nine and a half hour days.

        The management is really nothing to write home about.

        They’re running [until recently] old trains, on Victorian infrastructure – where sink holes can suddenly leave five metres of line unsupported, poised over an early sewer; and London Bridge, their main Terminus, was having five years of [much needed] improvement works, with typically four or five platforms out of fifteen being unavailable for months at a stretch.
        No trains over the Christmas holidays, 2015. None.
        So what do these far-seeing managers do?
        Pick a fight with the drivers’ union.

        Nice one Cyril.

        I have now retired.
        I will now use Southern [insert pejorative adjective or adverb of choice] Railways when I want, where I want – and if I want.


  13. In my state of Victoriastan here in oz, they changed from timber sleepers to concrete a few years back and although spent millions on the job they are now spending even more than the initial outlay trying to fix a disastrous stuff up .
    A machine they hired (less operator) from overseas to pick up prefab sections , place on the ballast and vibrate into place was operated by people who had no idea of what they were doing .
    In areas where soil type was not so good they vibrated the track section so much they turned the soil to dust , very deep dust at that .
    So in winter these dust holes turned to mud holes and the result was a roller coaster type ride , speed limits were drastically reduced and quite often trains were cancelled and buses replaced trains because sections became so bad .
    It used to be a running joke if you seen a passenger train on the line from About Seymour to Albury .

  14. It’s so great to have “scientists” advising engineers on how to build things because of what “will” happen. Comforting somehow.

  15. Yeah maintenance is important, but probably a bigger issue on Canadian railroads than in Arizona. Failure of a rail bridge would be big news indeed. I don’t know of any in the past century. The design factor is very large and 0.8C hasn’t mattered at all.

    Civil engineers have largely changed their name to “progressive” environmental engineers and a lot of wifty-poofty stuff has been coming out of this group. Bridges and all large structures are now the specialty of separately licenced structural engineers. This article is the kind of wifty-poofty stuff I was referring to.

  16. In Norway there are places that frequently has temperatures ranging from minus 30C to plus 25C during one year. Of course 0,5 degree C more or less will have a huge impact…… /s

  17. The usual heap of unevidenced woo and bald assertions. We really need something like a journalistic FDA or advertising standards authority to oversee this kind of thing and revoke people’s license who make factual statements without any supporting evidence.

  18. I am sure the engineers will be overwhelmed by this rapid pace of change. It will be so huge and quick that their skills will be challenged./sarc This type of activity is nothing more than money sucking waste of money used to scare people.

    Gary, it is amazing how this issue has turned engineering into a profession that used to be kind of a black and white professions to now wifty stuff. I remember sitting down and talking about how to design steam turbines to allow for 1/4 of the steam to be pulled off to aid in the removal, capture and transport of CO2. That discussion should have ended quickly. The efficiency of the plant would have plummeted and about any other plant would be more efficient. But, it turned into a full blown study.

    Another example. I had to write an explanation of why the CO2 emitted from a coal fired plant would not dissolve the nearby cliffs that consisted of limestone in a permit application. My answer would have been – dumb question, next. I had to write a report on this issue. Lost of fluffy, whiffy stuff in it.

  19. Trains have been operating across the southern prairies in Canada since the 1870s. Winnipeg has recorded temps as high as 43 C and as low as -45 C. During extreme cold operations slow down but the system is engineered for the temperature range.
    A couple of year’s ago we took the train from Toronto to Vancouver in February. One morning in Northern Ontario, it was so cold (around -40) that exhaust from the diesel engines formed a condensation trail, similar to those behind high-flying airplanes.

  20. Um….”severe flooding”, and “extreme heat and extreme cold” are weather related events…not climate change events.

    Building railways in areas prone to flash flooding, or in “sediments” is just asking for trouble. It’s not the climate’s fault that humans are stupid.

  21. Wow, another search for fake effects of fake CAGW. If only they could come up w/even one, real, demonstrable effect.

  22. Throughout history bridges have shown to be a solvable engineering problem. Near my place of birth a bridge stands as testament to just that. Built shortly after the Civil War it has carried trains across the Ohio River for 147 years, and is still in use. I don’t know what turnip wagon these people fell off of, but obviously they landed on their head. Perhaps a little pre-publication research would have helped. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkersburg_Bridge_(CSX)

  23. From the article: “Each nation has employed its own methodology for maintenance and repairs, but new, daunting challenges created by climate change — extreme heat, extreme cold, and severe flooding — require yet more rigorous solutions.”

    Extreme heat, extreme cold, and severe flooding have been around since the beginning of time.

    The evidence is the weather is less extreme now, with CO2 at 400ppm, than it was in the past with less CO2 in the atmosphere. Just the opposite of what the CAGW Alarmist say should be happening.

    Any extreme weather metric you look at shows extreme weather has declined over the years.

  24. While this article was a bit puzzling in what it really had to do much with AGW, I found it interesting in some aspects as it related to one of my first jobs as a brakeman in the lead locomotive 40+ years ago. From the days when the trains had a caboose and the Conductor in the caboose was the boss of the train. At any rate, I recall an old seasoned engineer that I rode with who would when approaching a longer river bridge, would slightly speed up before arriving at the bridge and then just before arriving at the bridge would begin to slow down ever so slightly in stages while crossing the bridge. I asked why he did this, and he replied that he had learned this from older engineers and the rationale was that it was like the Roman Army crossing a long foot bridge, and they were ordered to break step in their march across the bridge, so as not to collapse the bridge from their uniform step causing vibration and stress in the bridge.

    My engineer boss explained that bridges had resonance and if the train kept up the same exact speed, then the bridge would begin to vibrate and if a really long train, then there was a higher risk the bridge could fail from induced harmonics of the repetitive vibration if not broken up by random speed differential. My engineer friend said he could ‘feel’ the difference in the bridge motion by slowing down (or speeding up) on the bridge and that many bridge failures had happened historically when the train speed stayed the same and any failure or damage would more likely to happen if speed was maintained at a constant.

    I have no idea if the physics of this was true, but it seemed like those old engineers were convinced by their own observations of the facts on the ground that they themselves witnessed and felt. After reading this article, this is what came to my mind.

    • “While this article was a bit puzzling in what it really had to do much with AGW, I found it interesting in some aspects as it related to one of my first jobs as a brakeman in the lead locomotive 40+ years ago. From the days when the trains had a caboose and the Conductor in the caboose was the boss of the train.”

      I worked as a train dispatcher and as a station agent during my railroad days, 1974 to 1990, on the Katy Railroad, and the Union Pacific. I really enjoyed those jobs, once I got the hang of it. Sure did hate to see those cabooses go. It just wasn’t the same.

    • “Earthling August 30, 2017 at 10:22 am”

      Yes, the marching army sets up a resonance, which when matched to the resonance frequency of the structure, it can fail. The Romans learned quickly. I can’t recall where I read that, but it would have been a long time ago. Thanks for reminding me.

  25. Well, in the face of climate change LEGISLATION a lot of things might become difficult.
    Of course, it’s not like making things easier or better is a priority.

  26. IN THE FACE OF CLIMATE CHANGE can someone please tell our engineers to place emergency diesel generators and 48 hour fuel tanks on the second floor?? Cc: chemical plants, nuclear plants.

    • You would think this would be a nobrainer, right? Building a facility in a flood prone region, you locate the highest point within the bounds of the area you are building, raise it above projected flood levels, and place your emergency power systems and their fuel sources ON TOP OF this point. I blame the educational system, it is causing, intentionally, massive brain damage in the engineering, architecture and science fields in America.

  27. So, why is building a railway a few miles further south be SO much more difficult than at a slightly more northerly location, all other things being equal? (in the Northern Hemisphere)

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