This Is The Awesome Way Railroads Keep Tracks Warm In WinterS

Keeping your commute functioning in winter often means keeping the tracks unfrozen. That's why when temperatures dropped to well below freezing last week, the Long Island Rail Road needed to do something to keep all the moving parts working. And this crazy-looking fire mechanism is how they did it.

One of the most important things a railroad can do is keep its switches functioning. If one important switch goes down, like the switches pictured here at the LIRR's Jamaica Station, it can shut the entire system down. Really. So when temperatures get really cold, railroads around the world resort to these gas-powered switch warmers to stop the cold and ice from shutting everything down.

It's actually a very practical solution to a very pressing problem, when you think about it. What better way to warm something up, than with fire? And since most of New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority track equipment is still just leftovers from a hundred years ago, this ages-old solution still makes sense.

Though if you're ever wondering what seems to cause the constant track fires in winter, this might be part of the problem.

Photo credit: MTA/Patrick Cashin