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Fire on the tracks of the Enoden Railway Line is not quite what it seems

This last week, mother nature has really pushed her limits in what she can throw at us here in Japan – We’ve seen rain, sun, hail, snow and the start of the plum blossom season. But whilst social media was alight with the buzz of users sharing their days out in the very best and worst of it, a part of Kanto was literally alight, as flames lapped at the tracks of the Enoden railway line.

At first glance the flames may seem like cause for concern, but it might be best to hold off on calling the emergency services, because the fire may be necessary.

This time, the official Enoden twitter account quickly confirmed the fires were there with reason.

So what exactly is going on?

To put it simply, it is a tale of fire and ice, with the flames being used to thaw the switches that control which track a train travels on. Without any method of heat, the drop in temperatures during winter can cause the steel tracks to shrink and ultimately snap – which is not what any railway wants to deal with when the coldest of seasons arrive.

As it turns out, setting the tracks on fire is a method that has been used by the rail industry for almost as long as the existence of rail itself. Though the majority of rail companies these days utilise tracks that have inbuilt electric heating technology, there are still some – like the Enoden Railway Line – who prefer the tradition of fighting off the ice with the help of flame.
Of course, not everyone is aware of this, so it is not too uncommon for calls to be made to the local fire department when there are flames spotted on the track during winter.

As for the twitter post, it gained quite a bit of traction, with almost 3,000 retweets. Alongside the shock of those who had never seen such a method before, others mentioned feelings of nostalgia:

“Is this Cantera? This is my first time hearing about it.” @NanaSh10c “I remember hearing about this from my grandfather when I was a child more than 50 years ago” @koti_hamao “The Enoden also uses this? I thought it was only used in the northern regions!” @Nobutaka0901

Though concern is always appreciated, to save the efforts of the emergency services, if you ever happen to come across flaming railway tracks when it snows or if the temperature is low, your first call of action should be to check with the station staff before calling for help.

By - Connie Sceaphierde.