NJ Transit begins operation of leaf-cleaning trains

AquaTrack trains use high-pressure water to clear leaves and residue off track, preventing wheel slippage
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NJ Transit uses this AquaTrack equipment to clear rails of falling leaves and their residue during the fall. The trains begin around-the-clock operation on Sunday.
Ralph Spielman
The AquaTrack equipment sprays the rails with water at a pressure of up to 20,000 pounds per square inch.
Ralph Spielman

LITTLE FALLS, N.J. — As autumn arrives in the Northeast, NJ Transit is beginning to deploy its trains that wash tracks to clear them of falling leaves and their residue, preventing wheel-slippage issues.

The two AquaTrack trains, which use a high-pressure, power-washing system to clean the tracks, will begin 24/7 service on Sunday. The system has been in use by NJ Transit since October 2003.

NJ Transit’s Darren Donald, assistant superintendent transportation, rail operations, explained how the system worked during a demonstration Thursday at the commuter railroad’s Little Falls Yard, located on the Montclair-Boonton line. The three-car train made two run-bys as part of the demonstration.

The washing system is mounted on a flat car with an operator control cab and two 250-hp diesel engines, and uses two pressure pumps to dispense water at up to 17 gallons per minute, spraying the top of the rail at pressure up to 20,000 pounds per square inch. The train carries almost 21,000 gallons of water in two tank cars behind the spraying car, and can be pulled or pushed by a locomotive.

The train used in Thursday’s demonstration is based in Hoboken and covers the Morris and Essex and Montclair-Boonton lines. which include hilly areas around Glen Ridge and Summit stations. Twice a day, ‪Monday through Friday, overnight and between rush hours, the train prevents residue buildup. During the weekends, it covers the Pascack Valley and Main/Bergen County lines. A second spraying unit, added in 2016, is used on a train cleaning the Raritan Valley and North Jersey Coast lines. The addition of a second unit added in 2016 allows cleaning for the Raritan Valley and North Jersey Coast Lines, and is based at NJ Transit’s Raritan Yard.

Assistant Superintendent Donald told Trains News Wire that neither train covers the Atlantic City Line due to the lack of a viable all-NJ Transit routing to move the train to and from that line between Atlantic and Philadelphia.

NJ Transit President and CEO Kevin Corbett noted in a press release that systems throughout the world contend with the leaf and residue issue annually. In the New York City area, Metro-North, the Long Island Rail Road, Staten Island Railway, and New York City subway all deploy trains to to keep rails clear in the fall.

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