It ain’t exactly Star Wars, but Metro-North has some new tech that should make your commute more reliable: Laser Train!
This $3+ million custom railcar, pulled by a diesel locomotive, is blasting our tracks free of the annual scourge of leaf slime… and doing it at 60 mph. So impressive is this new car, that the railroad has “wrapped” it in a distinctive blue livery so you’ll notice it when it whizzes by, covering every mile of tracks in the system daily.
Lasers for leaf slime? Really?
Yes, with the beautiful New
England fall comes the annual problem of wet leaves on the tracks, decomposing
into pectin, one of the most slippery substances known to man.
So bad was the leaf slime
problem in years past that the railroad could have 25% of its fleet out of
service as the trains’ onboard computers sensed a loss of traction and locked
the wheels’ brakes to stop, grinding flat spots on the wheels, requiring repairs.
You’d be traveling along on
your train at speed, hit a slimy patch and feel the train’s computer send the
train into emergency braking mode, dumping the air brakes until the train came
to a full stop and got re-set. It wasn’t
dangerous, just delaying. The railroad would also lower trains’ speeds in leaf-slime
prone areas making more trains late.
This was especially a problem
on the Danbury branch, a 397-foot uphill climb from Norwalk to “The Hat City”. Often, locomotive-pulled trains couldn’t get
enough traction so that they had to skip stations like Cannondale just to keep
momentum to climb uphill.
You see, on a diesel locomotive
there are only eight traction wheels making contact with the rails. But on the electric M8 cars, every car is a locomotive,
so contact with the wheels is spread across the entire train, increasing
traction… another good reason to re-electrify
the Danbury branch.
Over the years the railroad
tried everything to build up traction… from old-school sand dispensers on locomotives
to “Water World”, a home-built gizmo blasting the tracks with high pressure
water at 48
gallons a minute. And now, lasers.
Credit goes to the Long Island
Railroad for debuting the leaf-blasting lasers first in 2017, but given the
LIRR’s flat terrain compared to hilly Connecticut, that railroad could hardly
put the tech to a real test.
Last year they tried out the
Laser Train in Connecticut and saw a 40% reduction in “slip slide” events,
leading to the lowest wheel-regrinding costs on record. In fact, Metro-North was given a Gold Award
for Rail Safety this year by APTA, the American Public Transportation
So, keep watching for the
Laser Train as it blasts its way through the fall, keeping you on-time and safe
during your travels.