October 20, 2023

LASERS VS LEAFS & LOCOS

 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 Association. 

So, keep watching for the Laser Train as it blasts its way through the fall, keeping you on-time and safe during your travels.

 

 

 

October 06, 2023

RAIL RIDERS SPEAK UP

 “I thought I lived in a progressive state,” said Luther. 

“My wife and kids live in New London and my three hour rail trip to see them will now take four or five hours.”

Luther was just one of dozens of rail passengers who spoke at public hearings last week on CDOT’s planned service cuts and fare hikes, explaining how policy decisions will impact the lives of real people.

Kelly told how she moved from Phoenix and chose a new home in Madison because of the train service.  “What will these rail cuts mean to the value of our home?” she asked.

Deborah, a disabled rider, said the CDOT “will be sued” because they didn’t survey the impact of their plans on the disabled.

Theater worker Molly said she moved to Bridgeport because of its train service.  But she said service cuts will hurt those in the NYC entertainment business because shows don’t end until 10:30 pm.  “Public transit is a public good,” and should be properly funded, she told the hearing.

Several of those who spoke said their kids rely on trains to get them to school, including Marybeth whose son commutes on Shore Line East in his wheelchair. Now he must be driven to New Haven to make his classes.

Maclean Saar commutes in his wheelchair


Nurse Kristen from Clinton works at Yale New Haven hospital.  She has colleagues who also work in Stamford who may now have to quit their jobs because of the rail cuts.

The proposed cuts on Shore Line East (from 23 to 16 trains per day) will “kill this railroad” said several riders.  “It will lead to a death spiral,” said others, noting that reduced train service will discourage ridership, leading to even lower numbers and prompting further cuts.

Jim Gildea of the Commuter Council said that Shore Line East was never given a chance to rebuild post-COVID.  While Metro-North and the Hartford Line saw service restored to 100% of pre-COVID levels, Shore Line East was only brought back to 66%, so no wonder ridership was down. 

He added that the state’s push for greater transit oriented development (TOD) in SE Connecticut will fail without the trains.  “What developer wants to build next to a train station with no trains?” he asked.

Almost everyone who testified noted how terrible traffic has become on I-95.  Less train service will only worsen that, especially on Fridays, while also adding to pollution.

Several of those who spoke in the virtual hearings bemoaned the lack of in-person hearings in the towns and cities most affected by the plans.  Still others asked what is being done to attract riders back to the trains… or what CDOT will do if riders do return en masse.

Not that any of what was said will make a difference.

While the hearing leader from CDOT said that all testimony would be “carefully reviewed”, these hearings are only a formality.  This is a done deal.  Blame lawmakers who approved Lamont’s budget cuts to CDOT. 

“CDOT wants to run trains,” said Gildea.  “Let’s give them the funding to do it”.

 

BIG BROTHER ON YOUR TRIP

Ready for a summer vacation?  Car packed, airline tickets at hand?  You may not realize it, but Big Brother’s coming along with you.  Howeve...