Light rail trains operate in all types of weather, from the blistering heat and monsoon rains to dust storms.
I wondered how the light rail system, and the men and women who manage the trains, handle bad weather. So, I contacted rail managers about what they do when the weather gets rough.
Debby Thacker, the rail operations manager at Valley Metro, said if it's a dust storm, the light rail operator tries to stop at station platforms and not the traffic intersections until the weather clears. "If it's heavy rain, they (the operators) reduce speed and proceed cautiously," Thacker said. The trains will hold at the stations if the weather makes it hard for operators to see.
In addition, Valley Metro's procedures in extreme weather require operators not to drive trains over flooded tracks if the water is three inches above the top of the rail. Finally, Thacker said if the operator cannot see the tracks, they are to stop and notify the light rail control center.
Kenneth DeBow is Valley Metro's Manager of Transit Safety. When it comes to light rail operators and adverse weather, DeBow told me operators "are instructed on the importance of performing a robust pre-trip inspection before departing the rail yard."
The inspection includes verifying that windshield wipers are working and that light rail vehicles are adequately filled with sand to aid in traction for stopping the trains.
Light rail operators are "trained to reduce operating speeds and to expect an increase in stopping distance. In addition to what we "can" control, operators are trained to expect the unexpected," Debow said.
When it comes to driving through heavy rain and dust storms, Debow says the best training for an operator is actual hands-on experience.
But, that can be difficult because the beautiful weather we enjoy in the Sonoran Desert does not always allow for an operator in training to experience severe weather.
The wires and utility poles that support light rail face some powerful desert storms and intense summer heat. Rick White, the Maintenance of Way Manager for Valley Metro, said the catenary poles feature weight stacks that prevent sagging and moving of the Overhead Catenary System that powers the light rail.
Weights, “keep a tension of 6,000 pounds on the messenger top wire and 3,000 pounds on the contact on the bottom contact wire. The messenger wire is the backbone for supporting the contact wire in the event of debris hitting the wire,” White said.
And what about the tracks during severe heat and cold?
White said a couple of areas along the light rail tracks, “have expansion joints to help prevent buckling in the extreme Phoenix heat. Cold, however, is the biggest challenge because of contraction, which can break the rails.
To stay safe around the light rail system, no matter the weather, remember to always follow the Code of Conduct guidance at valleymetro.org/safety.