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High-power washer combats train delays during falling leaf season

October 5, 2012

NEWARK, NJ — It’s that time of year:  crisp, cool days . . . colorful foliage . . . and slippery rail? 

While many NJ TRANSIT customers will soon enjoy a picturesque commute thanks to colorful autumn leaves, the agency is gearing up to fight a historic, seasonal railroad problem.  AquaTrack, a high-pressure power-washing system, will again lead the agency’s effort to prevent train delays associated with “slippery rail” conditions, starting this week and continuing through the end of falling leaf season.     

“Though the fall foliage makes for a scenic commute when the leaves are still on the trees, after they fall onto our railroad tracks, they can become quite a nuisance for us and our rail customers,” said NJ TRANSIT Executive Director James Weinstein.  “AquaTrack continues to play 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 early 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.

NJ TRANSIT reminds 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.

For a video of AquaTrack in operation, click the following links:

AquaTrack video – footage only

AquaTrack video – with text narrative


NJ TRANSIT is the nation's largest statewide public transportation system providing more than 895,000 weekday trips on 261 bus routes, three light rail lines, 12 commuter rail lines and through Access Link paratransit service. It is the second largest transit system in the country with 164 rail stations, 61 light rail stations and more than 19,000 bus stops linking major points in New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia.