NJ Transit leaf eliminator in action

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MONTCLAIR, N.J. — There is something doubly satisfying about watching a work train do its job obliterating leaves without personally having to do the work.

Trains News Wire’s Ralph Spielman was able to record the scene Friday, Oct. 13, at Montclair’s Walnut Street Station as NJ Transit GP40PH-2B No. 4205 and its three-car train were engaged in their annual fall battle against too many leaves falling on rails and wreaking potential havoc with New Jersey commuter train schedules. One of two trains so equipped, the AquaTrack car on the rear of each may look like a tourist railway flatcar on steroids, but is in reality a power washer system. This system does away with leaves and oily substances that could impair rail adhesion by making slick rails, which reduce train speeds and on time performance.

A second unit was added in 2016 to cover larger stretches of New Jersey’s commuter rail system.

“While there is no way to completely eliminate the effect Mother Nature has on the railroad, the AquaTrack units have had great success in managing leaf-related slippage on our rails,” NJ Transit Executive Director Steve Santoro says. “By utilizing these two highly specialized pieces of equipment, we can keep the rails free and clear of fallen leaves, increasing safety and keeping trains running on time.”

The first train has been in use since October 2003. On the flatcar are two 250-hp diesel engines with a control cab for the operator, pumping water out at 20,000 psi to the rail tops, using 17 gallons of water a minute.

With some challenging grades up to Summit, N.J., on the Morris and Essex Line, and to Glen Ridge, N.J., on the Montclair-Boonton Line, a twice-a-day scrubbing in the early morning and midday hours during the workweek ensures that morning meetings and evening dinners stay according to plan. The Pascack Valley and Main/Bergen County Lines are covered during the weekends. Since the additional train was added, the Raritan Valley and North Jersey Coast Lines are now sprayed regularly as well.

These trains are “in season” from now until mid-December, and augmented by sand on the rails in advance of rush hours. Agency workers trim trees to limit the number of leaves that fall.
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