Autumn in New York is one of the most majestic times of year — until those beautiful leaves you’re peeping fall on train tracks. So while we’re all oohing and ahhing over the changing trees, the MTA’s leaf-fighting season is in full swing, just in time for the wet weather on the horizon for Tuesday.
Crews from the Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North and Staten Island Railway are deploying work trains that will spray water to clear tracks of leaves that could leave behind slime that, once crushed by a passing train, could cause a dangerous, slippery condition known as “slip slide” — and service delays or worse.
“Anyone who has ever driven a car and tried to brake on a patch of ice knows something of what it feels like for a train engineer who applies the brakes to a train on a patch of rails coated in liquefied leaf residue,” MTA Chairman Joe Lhota said.
On Metro-North, a work train will use a high-pressure spray of water and specially equipped rail trucks to scrub crushed leaves from the tracks. The railroad also uses “sanders” on its diesel passenger trains to drop sand to improve traction and reduce slippage on the tracks.
The LIRR deploys a special train to spread a traction gel called sandite, which is similar in texture to pancake batter, onto cleared tracks to combat leaf slime.
Watch a video of the LIRR train in action.
Fighting “slip slide” isn’t just a fall thing, though. “Throughout the year we work to combat vegetation along the rails,” Lhota added.
To that end, the LIRR, Metro-North and Staten Island Railway trims and removes trees and flora along the tracks.
Invasive trees like ailanthus, black locust, Norway maple and bamboo make up about two-thirds of the leaves that affect the LIRR, the MTA said.
Next year, contractors will clear vegetation along 80 miles of LIRR track, with an additional 94 miles planned for 2019.
In addition to the MTA’s leaf-cleaning work that is now underway, the braking systems on the agency’s new rail cars, the M7s and M8s, have been programmed to better adjust to slippery conditions.