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Metro-North Begins Seasonal Fight Against 'Slippery Leaf Slime'

An example of how the MTA utilizes special trains to clean leaves off of Metro-North tracks.
An example of how the MTA utilizes special trains to clean leaves off of Metro-North tracks. Video Credit: MTA

Although the region is a beautiful menagerie of colors as summer turns to fall in Connecticut, the foliage is creating some difficulties for Metro-North — at least when the leaves fall.

With leaves scattered across its tracks, Metro-North has dedicated crews that operate work trains that spray water jets to clear tracks of slimy leaf debris. Left on the tracks, the slime could have an impact on railroad safety and operations for commuters.

With wet, windy conditions in the forecast, the MTA has warned that leaves may blow onto the rails, creating isolated locations with slippery conditions.

According to officials, “a specialized Metro-North work train sprays water at high pressure, and specially equipped highway/rail trucks use rail scrubbers to remove crushed leaf residue from the tracks. On-board Metro-North diesel passenger trains, ‘sanders’ automatically drop sand onto the tracks to help improve traction and reduce wheel slippage.”

During the fall, officials said that fallen leaves are run over by trains, compacted by the weight and crushed into a “gelatinous, slime-like substance that reduces the normal amount of adhesion train wheels have on the rails,” creating a condition known as “slip slide,” which prevents trains from stopping normally when the brakes are applied.

“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 Joseph Lhota said. “As autumn begins we turn our attention to fighting leaves that have fallen on our tracks, but throughout the year we work to combat vegetation along the rails.”

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