Train driving through a Swedish forest
28 May 2024

Freight trains responsible for Swedish wild fires - fire resistant brakes available but not used


Every year, train brakes cause numerous fires along Sweden´s  railways. There are brakes available that could reduce the number of fires, but Swedish freight companies prefer not to use them. The choice is between train safety and fire risk.

The fire service warns that the extremely dry air currently over the central northern territories means that the recent railway fires are likely to continue. The brakes on the trains are largely responsible for these fires, according to a news report by Swedish Television, SVT.se.

"The ceramic solutions developed to replace the current cast iron brakes on freight trains do not brake as well," says Trafikverket's press officer Bengt Olsson.


"The old brakes are superior" 

It is primarily freight trains that cause the fires, he says. 

On major train lines in central Europe, a different type of braking system is used today, but according to Trafikverket, they do not work as well in Sweden's varying climate, especially when there is ice and snow.

"In this climate, cast iron brakes are superior at stopping a train," says Bengt Olsson.

Already in 2018, CTIF.org reported that the Swedish fire authorities blamed the majority of forest fires on sparks from trains. 

Leif Sandahl, fire engineer at MSB, told SVT News that it is the sparks that are formed when the trains press against the rails that are behind many of the wildfires.

"It's time for the train companies to start thinking about what they are doing. They can not go around spraying sparks like while there is a fire ban in place", he said to the news site.


Sparks from a breaking train

Study made on trains in 2013 - composite breaks could be the solution

CTIF´s Aleš Jug, chair of the Fire Prevention Committee until 2019, made a study on Slovenian trains around 2013, and found that technical details determine if the trains create sparks or not:

"It very much depends on the type of the brakes trains are using. One solution would be composite brakes, but the problem is that the trains are coming from other countries as well, and an international agreement would need to be in place for this to be effective", said Aleš Jug to CTIF News."

"We have proposed an app for Slovenian railroads as well, to detect and suppress forest fires. They have also installed a special heat detector that track for overheated wheels and brakes", Jug continues.


Trains not a huge concern in the US:

Video & Photo Credits: The video (below) from Wide World of Trains shows a sequence where sparks from the wheels are created when the train drives over the tracks. The above close up photo is a screen shot from the video.

The graph below shows stats from CALFIRE of the most common causes of wildfires in the state of California. Trains are a comparatively low risk, according to these statistics when it comes to US wildfires:



Photo credit: PXhere.com Commons License