General Question

elbanditoroso's avatar

What is the effect if lightning strikes a moving train?

Asked by elbanditoroso (26286points) 4 weeks ago

Presumably the electricity would pass through the locomotive or train cars and be grounded on the rails below.

But the rails themselves are steel, and therefore conductors. How far would the electricity travel through the rails? Could it short out signal lights, safety arms, etc?

Would the lightning strike damage the locomotive and cause it to stop?

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8 Answers

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

One of the rails is grounded in some railroad scenarios. Electronics connected to the rails have all manner of transient protection. The rails themselves have surge arrestors at regular intervals. Not sure how far it would go but probably not too far.

kritiper's avatar

Electricity, like water, always takes the path of least resistance. So it wouldn’t harm the locomotive or cars. The rail would probably ground at the first red/green railway signal light, if not before due to wet ties and wet ballast between the rails. (Assuming it is raining when the lightning strikes.)

Patty_Melt's avatar

I lived right next to some tracks when I was a teen.
During a storm one night we heard a peculiar doing right as the lightning flashed. The lightning looked like a giant ball of green light. There was still a sound after the light was gone. We realized it had hit the tracks. I don’t know how long it lasted, or how far away it had hit, but it was still coming toward us when we ran out to the yard. Then like a ghost train, we could see nothing as we heard it pass by us, and it still continued ringing well past us. It was amazing! We never heard news of damage, but maybe we wouldn’t.
If it hit a moving locomotive, it might make it jump slightly, but I think the tracks is what would hold it the longest.

Caravanfan's avatar

Do you guys know the story of how a lightning strike nearly aborted Apollo 12? Right after they cleared the tower there was a bolt that went from the tower to the Saturn 5 rocket. All the systems went offline, but the rocket was flying fine on backup. However, electronics seemed fried. They were just about to call an abort when John Aaron, who had seen something like this in a simulation, called out “SCE to Aux”. Alan Bean said, “Huh?” They repeated it, he found the switch, switched it to Aux, and the mission was saved. John Aaron is forever known after that as the “Steely eyed missile man”. (If that phrase seems familiar, it’s because it was used in The Martian to describe Rich Purnell, who came up with an orbital pattern to save Mark Watney. It was an ode to the Apollo 12 event)

Here’s a video for interest

Patty_Melt's avatar

“laughed all the way into orbit”, my favorite part of the story.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I believe that lightning strikes on locomotives and the rolling stock behind them are so common, they happen without comment or casualty because it would be difficult to design a more effective method of transferring the charge to the ground. My bet is that ms. Melt could have balanced on her hands with her tongue on the track and the charge from that bolt would ignore her on the way to ground. Now one foot on the track and the other on the ground probably has less benign implications.

Patty_Melt's avatar

What an inappropriate position you have perched me in!

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