Still recovering from pandemic, extreme heat adds to public transit budget issues

Commuters wait for their train on a platform at West Norwood station in south London on July 18, 2022 amid extreme heat disruption warnings. Credit: Niklas Halle’n/AFP via Getty Images

Fierce heat waves engulfing much of the northern hemisphere, including the United States and Europe, are reigniting concerns among experts who say extreme heat poses a growing threat to some of the world’s largest transportation systems in common in the world. With public transport in many major cities already facing serious budget shortfalls and transport accounting for a significant share of global greenhouse gas emissions, the situation adds another challenge to the international effort to combat against climate change.

Research has shown that public transportation is a very effective way to reduce emissions from the transportation sector, which is now the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States. An analysis found that public buses produce about a quarter less carbon emissions per trip-mile than personal vehicles, with trains producing about 80% fewer emissions.

But as temperatures soared above 100 degrees Fahrenheit this week in the United States and across Europe, civil engineers and transportation authorities reiterated warnings that train tracks could potentially bend or buckle. warp under extreme heat. Some agencies, including in London and different parts of the United States, have imposed speed restrictions on train lines and even suspended entire routes on some of the hottest days to mitigate risk.

When exposed long enough to triple-digit temperatures, steel railway lines can soften and deform when heavy trains pass through them. As climate change makes extreme heat more frequent and intense, researchers say it could cause more disruption to transit operations as agencies are forced to close lines to make repairs. And a growing number of experts say not enough is being done to prepare for these additional costs, which could make it harder for cities to improve and expand their transit systems to reduce emissions. .

“The United States is not prepared,” said Paul Chinowsky, professor of civil engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder. told Bloomberg. “While the rail system is being gradually improved, there is a lot of work to be done and what is being done is not being done fast enough.”

In fact, extreme heat was first cited by California transportation authorities as the reason a subway train derailed near San Francisco last month, causing a few minor injuries and causing the evacuation of about fifty passengers. Local officials said a subway track had developed a bend after a heatwave caused temperatures to hit 102 degrees, with the tracks themselves hitting 140 degrees, 25 degrees higher than the authority had said. metropolitan area transit system considers safe.

Extreme heat can also lead to other transit-related issues. A summer heat wave in the Pacific Northwest last year melted the cables that power the light rail system in Portland, Oregon. This forced city authorities to suspend all train services for two days.

Research shows that these types of problems are only expected to get worse as the planet continues to warm. Operational delays due to extreme heat could cost U.S. transit authorities and other rail operators between $25 billion and $60 billion by the end of the century, according to a 2017 study.

It’s a serious problem for many major U.S. transit authorities, which are already facing huge budget shortfalls after ridership plummeted to unprecedented levels in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. Between September 2019 and September 2020, average commuter train ridership fell 79% across the country, according to the United States Government Accountability Office.

The federal government stepped in, pumping in about $69 billion in emergency aid to help keep public transit systems afloat. But as that money begins to dry up, many of the nation’s largest transit systems are still facing significant budget shortfalls as ridership remains well below pre-pandemic levels.

This includes the Washington, D.C. transit system, which projects a funding shortfall of $519.3 million by fiscal year 2024, and the Boston Metro Area Transit System, which facing a deficit of $236 million in the same year, followed by an even larger deficit of $406 million in 2025, according to a recent government analysis.

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the nation’s largest public transportation system, also faces a budget shortfall of about $500 million by 2025. Although when state assistance runs out the following year, this shortfall could reach $2 billion if ridership remains at current levels and other funding sources do not not emerge.

Federal assistance from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which Congress passed last year, will help address some of these budget shortfalls. The legislation includes $39 billion for mass transit systems and $66 billion for the nation’s interstate railroads.

But despite being the biggest federal investment in public transit in U.S. history, advocates say it still falls short of what is needed. The nation’s transit systems alone, not including interstate railroads, had a $176 billion shortfall last year, and that gap is expected to reach $250 billion by 2029, according to a 2021 report from the American Public Transportation Association. If correct, the $39 billion infrastructure act, spread over five years, would only put a dent in those estimates.

According to many climate and transit advocates, this is a problem that will become increasingly difficult and costly to solve as the impacts of global warming accelerate. And some analysts believe the ongoing pandemic could even leave a lasting stigma on public transport that could impact finances for years to come.

On Tuesday in Britain, as historic triple-digit temperatures broke three national records in the space of an hour, public transport officials in some areas painted train tracks white to help deflect the heat and prevent warping.

“Here in the UK, we tend to treat hot spells as a chance to go play in the sun,” said Penny Endersby, chief executive of the country’s meteorological service. said in a video to the public. “It’s not that kind of weather. Our lifestyles and infrastructures are not adapted to what is to come.

That’s all this week for today’s weather. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday.

Today indicator

85 percent

That’s the percentage of Americans who will experience temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit this weekend, including millions in the south-central United States who are expected to experience triple-digit heat, the National Weather Service warned.

Melvin Z. Madore