Alberta's extreme cold cracks a city LRT line, boosts calls to AMA

Record-smashing cold temperatures cracked a rail on an Edmonton’s transit line causing delays for Tuesday morning commuters in the city’s south end. 

'In this cold weather, hoses break, metal snaps. It's pretty much guaranteed'

Temperatures were so cold in Edmonton that a city LRT rail cracked, causing commuter delays on Tuesday morning. (Sam Martin/CBC)

How cold is it in Edmonton? Cold enough to crack one of the rail lines on the city's LRT system.

The cracked rail caused delays for morning commuters Tuesday morning, joining dead batteries and surreal views caused by ice fog as the deep freeze continues.

ETS staff will continue to manually operate LRT crossing gates at four intersections along 111th Street near Southgate mall until about 8 p.m., the city said Tuesday afternoon in a statement. LRT service will continue but trains will be subject to a speed restriction in that area.

The intersection at 51st Avenue and 111th Street eastbound will be closed to traffic after 8 p.m. to allow for repairs on the rail, the city said.

"We expect the repair to be finished during the night, and LRT service to resume normal operation for tomorrow morning's commute," Rowan Anderson, a communications advisor with the city, said in a statement.

The rail line cracked overnight when temperatures plunged to –34 C, smashing a previous record set in 2005 when the mercury reached a comparatively balmy –28.3 C

Crews will work to repair the cracked rail after the morning commute is over, a city spokesperson said Tuesday in an email to CBC News. 

Cold-related emergency calls

Since Friday, Edmonton hospitals have seen 11 emergency department visits related to frostbite, said Sabrina Atwal, spokesperson for Alberta Health Services.

As well, EMS responded to 23 cold-related calls in the Edmonton area, with five of those calls requiring transport to hospital and one requiring transport to a shelter, Atwal said.

During a typical winter day when there is no extreme cold warning, EMS responds to about two calls for cold exposure, she said.

Meanwhile, a refinery flare set the city skyline ablaze, its strange red glow accentuated by the frost.

In a tweet, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services said the flare would appear larger than normal in the cold but was no cause for alarm.

A refinery flare lit up the sky over Edmonton early Tuesday, its strange glow accentuated by the freezing temperatures. (Sam Martin/CBC)

Extreme cold weather advisories issued Sunday are now in place for the entire province, putting dangerous pressure on the power grid, forcing schools to close and emergency homeless shelters to open.

The cold has also been causing headaches for Alberta drivers in the form of icy roads, bus cancellations, surge pricing for Uber rides, sputtering engines and dead batteries. 

5,300 calls

Ryan Lemont, a spokesperson with the Alberta Motor Association, said road crews are struggling to keep up with demand as the deep chill settles in.

On Sunday, AMA received 5,300 calls for service across the province, about four times the normal volume.  

Drivers who need help may have to wait up to 48 hours for assistance, especially if their vehicles are broken down at home. Priority is given to those stuck on the road, Lemont said. 

"If you are finding yourself in that situation, by all means, call as soon as you can," Lemont said.

"Typically in these situations, we'll send out available resources to people in those emergency situations first. Obviously, with temperatures of –25 C, safety is a concern." 

The extreme cold forced the County of Grande Prairie to temporarily halt snow removal. The area has been contending with temperatures around –35 and operations won't resume until the deep freeze lets up. 

"This way we don't have to go out and rescue a broken down machine," said Clint Diederich, operations manager for the city's public works department.

"In this cold weather, hoses break, metal snaps. It's pretty much guaranteed. 

"We have 22 graders and one of them is assured to break down on a day like today. Some of them won't even start." 

'Just keep on moving'

Wind chill values of –45 are expected in the Edmonton region Tuesday, with frigid temperatures forecast to persist throughout the week, Environment Canada said on its website.

The end to the cold snap is forecast to come on Sunday when the temperature in the city is expected to soar to a high of –4 C.

Until then, people are urged to dress appropriately and be mindful that frostbite can develop within minutes on exposed skin, especially when there is a wind chill.

Edmonton's Erin Shellamy, who clears snow for a living, has his own way of keeping warm. 

"At 40-below, your boots don't do you much good once you stop moving but the snow provides me money and a job. You just try to keep your face covered, any open skin. You got to move the fingers, just keep on moving."

CBC Edmonton's Zahra Premji offers cold weather tips during Alberta's recent cold snap. 2:32


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