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Wiggle Tracks Are Cute But Frightening

November 11, 2010

On September 7th, an earthquake in New Zealand measured 7.1 on the Richter scale. Across the fault line lay some rail that was impressively affected by the quake. I’d like to imagine these tracks were just so caught up in the moment that they did a little shimmy.

The disconcerting thing about this is that the rails haven’t broken. Some rail system emergency triggers are dependent upon whether or not the rail breaks, and don’t give any notice if the rail is only bent out of alignment. This might be why there’s a Kiwirail freight train sitting there looking all wowed. In 1993, this signalization issue led to an Amtrak passenger train derailment. (Since then, they’ve been retrofitted.)

My initial hypothesis here (I am no expert on railway track deformation) in order to stimulate discussion is that the buckling may be the result of compressional deformation across a broad zone. The compression on the very strong railway line was accommodated when a weak point was found, leading to a comparatively rapid deformation to form the main buckle on the left. This then concentrated stress on both sides of the buckle, allowing the other (right side) bends to form. Can anyone who knows more on this topic comment further?

Check out more pictures and scientific debatery about how this happened here.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Debbie permalink
    November 11, 2010 1:21 pm

    YES. My comment is, you are just as much a transit nerd as CCT Girl.

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