Wind lashes through gusts of snowflakes. Dense, white powder piles up around cars, houses and anything else in Mother Nature’s way.

It’s freezing.

So how do trains stay warm as the weather turns frigid? They wear big, custom-made sweaters.

No, we’re just joking!

Keeping America’s 140,000-mile private rail network moving during a cold snap has nothing to do with crochet hooks and yarn and everything to do with investments in advanced technology and engineering. Today’s tech can monitor trains and their components in real time, helping them operate well, even in poor conditions.

Here are ten examples of how freight rail maintains a safe and efficient network during a deep freeze:

  • Air Dryers, Not Just for Hair: Moisture in the brake system of mainline trains can freeze. That’s why locomotives contain air dryers that remove moisture and keep operations safely moving.
  • Roasty, Toasty Headlights: Locomotives often use LED headlights because they are energy efficient. Since LEDs don’t get very hot, the headlights are equipped with heaters to melt snow and ice.
  • Hot Technology (Literally): Railroads use a variety of technologies including computer-controlled start-stop systems, low idle settings and auxiliary power units to keep locomotive engines safely working in cold weather. Again, the sweaters were a joke!
  • Santa Has a Command Center, So Do We: At centralized command centers, key personnel monitor the rail network and weather forecasts in real-time to coordinate efforts such as crew deployment, maintenance and contractor management.
  • Blizzard Buses: Each year, railroads invest millions to upgrade existing and purchase new winter equipment such as industrial-sized snow blowers and “blizzard buses” for crew transportation.
  • Sounding the Alarm: With more than 25% of U.S. freight rail traffic moving through Chicago, railroads implemented an early warning system to assess real-time data and trigger operational contingency plans such as rerouting traffic. Before winter weather even hits, railroad logistics managers plan alternate routes to keep traffic moving.
  • Bundled Up: It may be freezing, but railroad employees are bundled up and warm. Providing cold weather gear, training and transportation are just a few things railroads do to keep employees safe and comfortable in cold weather.
  • Plowing Through Snow: Mainline locomotives are equipped with snow plows that remain in place year-round. When there is too much snow for the locomotive to handle, railroads use specialized on-track machinery to clear the tracks.
  • Like Building a Snow Fort: Winter weather can make it hard to move freight cars in railroad terminals. By building additional tracks within rail yards, railroads can store more trains and relieve terminal congestion.
  • Quick as the Wind: During severe winter weather, railroads safely deploy rapid response teams to immediately remove snow and resolve mechanical and service interruptions.