140-degree railroad tracks led to Bay Area train derailment

Officials said excessive heat on the tracks caused a BART train near Concord to derail earlier this week.

About 50 passengers were evacuated around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday after a Bay Area Rapid Transit train derailed near Hastings Drive and David Avenue.

Firefighters said several people reported minor injuries. BART officials said one person complaining of back pain was taken to the hospital.

The train derailed in the midst of a heat wave in the Bay Area that sent temperatures soaring to triple digits.

“Our initial assessment was that heat played a major role in the partial derailment caused by a bend in the track,” BART said in a statement.

The temperature on the tracks exceeded 140 degrees – about 35 degrees higher than the normal operating temperature of the railway – BART spokesman Chris Filippi told the San Francisco Chronicle. The rails can deflect when the rail temperature reaches or exceeds 20 degrees above the neutral operating temperature, Filippi said.

Wheel axles due to extreme heat are rare but not unheard of. A 19-car freight train derailed in Tulare County after extreme heat caused a jolt on the tracks in 2017. Officials pointed to a similar cause when a freight train derailed in Big River near the California-Arizona border in 2020.

The transit system could not confirm whether this was the first heat-related derailment, the Chronicle reported. There is no mention of heat contributing to any order on the BART rails, according to the agency’s news archive, which dates back to 2005.

According to a 2019 study in Transportation Policy, rail lines across the country could become more vulnerable to the increasing frequency and intensity of heat events. Research shows that by 2100, railroad tracks across the country could suffer between $25 billion and $60 billion in damage from heat and climate change.

After the BART train derailed, transportation officials began running the train on a single track between Pleasant Hill and Concord. The transit system said in a statement that the scene was cleared on Wednesday morning after about 70 BART employees worked through the night to prepare the route for morning commuters. 140-degree railroad tracks led to Bay Area train derailment

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