ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — NJ Transit is prepared to wage its annual battle against Mother Nature and fallen leaves on the rails by deploying its leaf-clearing unit, the AquaTrack, as conditions warrant throughout the fall season.
The equipment is a high-pressure power-washing system, which removes leaves and oily residue from the tracks in an effort to prevent train delays caused by “slippery rail” conditions.
“While we have learned time and again that there’s no all-inclusive way to prepare for how each change of season will impact our system, we’ve found great success with the AquaTrack unit in prior years when it comes to managing leaf-related slippage on our rails,” said NJ Transit Executive Director Veronique Hakim. “By utilizing this highly specialized equipment, we can keep the rails free and clear of fallen leaves, which increases safety and keep trains running on time.”
Fallen leaves left on rail tracks can cause a condition known as “slippery rail” — a challenge facing all railroads in the Northeast and other parts of the world where deciduous trees are prevalent. The decaying leaves create an oily residue that coats the rails and causes poor traction. The decreased train speeds, in turn, create delays.
The AquaTrack system has been in use by NJ Transit since October 2003. It consists of two 250-horsepower diesel-engine units mounted on a flat car with an operator control cab. Two pressure-pump units dispense water up to 20,000 pounds-per-square-inch directly to the top of the rail. The process uses 17 gallons per minute.
For the fall of 2015, AquaTrack will begin on the M&E lines, where there have been instances of leaf-slippage delays in recent weeks, particularly trains travelling into Summit Station. Once that cleaning cycle for AquaTrack is complete, the unit will resume its regular fall schedule.
Traditionally, AquaTrack operates primarily on the M&E and Montclair-Boonton lines, washing the rails twice a day Monday through Friday — once overnight and again during midday hours. On weekends, the Pascack Valley and Main/Bergen County lines are usually covered. In addition to AquaTrack, NJ Transit also strategically spreads sand on the rails in advance of peak-period trains to increase traction. In addition, we also trim trees to help stem the amount of leaves on the tracks. NJ Transit’s leaf clearing operation runs from mid-October through mid-December.