Extreme Heat Melts Streetcar Cable in Portland, Service Suspended for Days

Extreme high temperatures in Oregon are forcing the Portland Streetcar and the MAX light rail to shut down for days.

Portland Streetcar announced its closure on Twitter, citing intense heat that damaged a streetcar cable. A photo posted by the service showed how the heat melted a rubber-lined cable.

In case you're wondering why we're canceling service for the day, here's what the heat is doing to our power cables. pic.twitter.com/EqbKUgCJ3K

— Portland Streetcar (@PDXStreetcar) June 27, 2021

Some commenters questioned the legitimacy of the photo, citing that mechanical issues caused the damage, not the heat.

"If there's thread marks on the cable, that's abrasion. You have a design issue that needs to be looked into, along with a cable insulation material problem," Twitter user @gorgepulse said.

If there’s thread marks on the cable, that’s abrasion. You have a design issue that needs to be looked into, along with a cable insulation material problem.

— Chris Carvalho (@gorgepulse) June 27, 2021

Other Twitter users echoed similar concerns about the cause of the damage being from abrasions, but Carnegie Mellon Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering associate professor Costa Samaras explained the heat's impact on the cables in a Twitter thread. Samaras focuses on issues of energy technology and infrastructure.

"The extreme heat in the Portland has melted power cables in the streetcar system, which caused the agency to cancel streetcar service today & tomorrow," Samaras wrote. "We have a climate crisis fueling cascading health, power and transportation crises. It's time to do something."

The extreme heat in the Portland has melted power cables in the streetcar system, which caused the agency to cancel streetcar service today & tomorrow. We have a climate crisis fueling cascading health, power, and transportation crises. It's time to do something. h/t @dburbach https://t.co/kVyf5jS0Qh

— Costa Samaras (@CostaSamaras) June 28, 2021

Portland Streetcar spokesperson Andrew Plambeck told Newsweek on Monday that the cable pictured in its tweet was the only scorched one in the system but was one of the multiple issues caused by the heat. Sagging wires and downed tree limbs on some of the wires also have caused the delays, he said.

"This likely would have happened at some point but was accelerated by the extreme heat," the spokesperson said. "Our infrastructure is built for typical Portland temperature ranges and this heatwave is far beyond typical for June in Portland. As we fix issues and cooler air moves in tonight, we expect to begin regular service again Tuesday morning."

TriMet, which runs the MAX light rail, on Sunday announced the suspension of the rail until Tuesday due to the heat.

"The overhead power wires on the MAX system are made of copper, which will expand and sag as temperatures soar. Counterweights help keep the wire taut, but in extreme heat the wire expands so much that the counterweights hit the ground, allowing for the sagging," TriMet wrote on its website.

Temperatures in Oregon are expected to reach 114 degrees on Monday and cool down a bit during the week, according to the National Weather Service.

MAX Train Portland
The MAX and Portland Streetcar systems were suspended due to extreme temperatures in Portland, Oregon. Above, a MAX train travels along deserted streets in Portland on April 3, 2020. Alex Milan Tracy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

TriMet has been monitoring the temperatures and informed riders via the website as to when closures may be expected. All MAX lines are delayed when temperatures reach over 100 degrees in the city. The company suspended them because they can't operate over 110 degrees.

"The MAX system is designed to operate in conditions up to 110 degrees. Forecasts show it will likely only get hotter tomorrow without sufficient time to cool down," TriMet said in a press release on Sunday.

Due to heat-caused mechanical failures and health concerns, TriMet is asking people to look for other forms of transportation while the extreme heat persists.

"TriMet is concerned for the health and well-being of our passengers, and we want everyone to stay healthy and safe during this unprecedented heatwave," TriMet's statement read. "It will take time to give the system time to cool off."

TriMet buses in Portland are still running and the company said that due to the extreme temperatures, it will not turn away commuters who cannot afford the fare.