Switch Point Heating Types

  • Flat Heaters – this method of electric heating is the most energy efficient means of heating. There are different flat types of flat heaters but the best flat heaters have never been coiled and retain no coiled memory for the most efficient thermal conductivity to the rail. The flat heater has a much greater thermal conductive profile than round tubular heaters … typically 15% surface area contact for round heaters vs 40% surface area contact for flat heaters. These numbers assume no coiling and no obstruction on the rail – a contiguous straight run down the rail. Nibe Element carries the popular San Monel 400 Sheathed Flat Heaters and San Stainless Steel Flat Heaters.


  • Smudge Pot Heating – is a kerosene or oil based heating system where individual smudge pots are placed on the side of the rail to produce heat.


  • Open Flame Heating – this is another gas-powered method where a tube or runner with holes allows gas to flow down the length of the tube. The tube is then ignited and the rail is heated through direct flame. The disadvantages of this system are:
    • The system is inherently dangerous to populated areas
    • The flame can be blown out through wind


  • Blown Gas Heat – this method of heat can produce extreme heat. The disadvantages of this type of heating system is:
    • The initial capital cost is expensive
    • The system is inherently dangerous to populated areas
    • The system is difficult to maintain – typically the railroad will take the ducting system off at the end of the winter season and put it back on in the beginning to avoid excessive damage from the train


  • Electric Round Tubular Heaters – this method of heating was the first electric switch heating method. The heaters can generate wattages up to 600 watts per foot. The disadvantages to these heaters are:
    • They burn extremely hot and have short operational lives – usually less than 2 years
    • They are round and as such the best thermal contact to the rail is 15%
    • They are typically manufactured and delivered coiled – the heater has a metallic memory that curves the heater when applied to the rail so there can never be perfect continuity to the rail.



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