High-power washer combats train delays during falling leaf season

October 20, 2011

NEWARK, NJ — NJ TRANSIT’s star player in the seasonal face-off against Mother Nature is again hitting the rails.  AquaTrack, a high-pressure power-washing system, will lead the agency’s effort to prevent train delays associated with “slippery rail” conditions, starting this month and continuing through the end of falling leaf season.


“Fall foliage may make for a picturesque commute when the leaves are still on the trees, but after they fall onto our railroad tracks, they can become quite a nuisance,” said NJ TRANSIT Executive Director James Weinstein.  “AquaTrack plays a vital role in helping to combat slippery rail and keep trains running on time.”


Slippery rail, an age-old problem caused by autumn’s falling leaves and wet weather conditions, affects all railroads in the Northeast and other parts of the world where deciduous trees are prevalent.  When falling leaves are crushed by train wheels, the decaying leaf material creates an oily residue that coats the rails, resulting in poor traction for trains and resulting delays. 


NJ TRANSIT introduced AquaTrack in October 2003.  The system, which is pushed or pulled along its routes by a diesel locomotive, includes two 250-horsepower diesel-engine units mounted on a flat car with an operator control cab.  Two pressure-pump units operate up to 20,000 pounds-per-square-inch at 17 gallons per minute, delivering water directly to the top of the rail. 


All during leaf season, from mid-October through mid-December, AquaTrack works day and night to keep tracks free of fallen leaves and residue.  To supplement the high-pressure washer, NJ TRANSIT strategically spreads sand on the rails in advance of peak-period trains to increase traction and has implemented an extensive tree-trimming program along the right-of-way to reduce leaves falling onto the tracks.


AquaTrack operates primarily on the Morris & Essex 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 covered.


Since AquaTrack was first put into service, NJ TRANSIT has been able to manage slippery rail delays throughout the system.  However, NJ TRANSIT is reminding customers that despite the agency’s best efforts, the combination of wet conditions following the leaf-fall period may result in traction problems and delayed trains.  As a result, customers may wish to allow extra travel time when traveling during the fall season.




NJ TRANSIT is the nation's largest statewide public transportation system providing more than 895,000 weekday trips on 240 bus routes, three light rail lines and 12 commuter rail lines. It is the third largest transit system in the country with 164 rail stations, 60 light rail stations and more than 19,000 bus stops linking major points in New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia.