What Are the Dangers of Railway Power Cables?

Updated April 17, 2017

Electrical railway power cables often are a cause of concern for anyone working with them or living near them. Electric trains are very common throughout the world and are an alternative to diesel and internal battery-powered trains. Some types of electric trains use a design whereby electrical current runs from overhead lines to the train via either a pole or a device known as a pantograph atop the train.


The overhead cables of an electric train are exceptionally dangerous. These cables are always powered on and contain a high voltage at all times. Touching these cables can cause death by electrocution. Even if the cables are touched by hand, items may conduct electricity. Therefore, activities like flying a kite near these cables or trying to touch the cables from above with any object is ill-advised. These overhead cables are also potentially deadly even if nothing comes into contact with them. The power from them can act like lightning and burst out. These arcs can hit objects up to 9 feet away.

Electrical Burns

There are those who have not been killed by electrocution when coming into contact with a train's power cables but have instead suffered serious burns. An ill-advised trend known as "train surfing" is responsible for many of these. Even when electrocution does not kill a person, the burns associated with electrocution are severe and can be life-threatening. These burns are known as "electrical burns" and can have serious related complications. Heart problems, brain damage and nervous system malfunction can all occur as a result of electrical burns.

Arc Flash Burns

"Arc flash burns" occur differently from electrical burns but are no less dangerous. An arc burn occurs when the electricity arcs from a power cable but, unlike electrocution, a person does not have to come into direct contact with the cable via touch or electricity conductor to be injured. When an arc occurs from a power cable, an intense heat and light is emitted and can burn skin tissue or clothing. The melting of clothing intensifies the burns as they continue to burn onto the skin even after the arc subsides. The pressure of the arc can also throw people, adding more injury to the burns. The heat can also cause electrical components to heat and melt, which can then be blasted a distance and become lodged in a person's skin. This can cause severe burns.

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About the Author

Edie Grace has been writing and editing since 2008. Her work has been published in medical magazines and aired on radio. She has written about skin conditions, cardiovascular health and surgery. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and music and a Master of Arts in journalism.