Tuesday, October 15, 2013

So what is Slippery Rail?

© 2013 Boston to a T

Well it's that time of year again. Thats right, it's Fall! The days are getting shorter, nights are getting colder, and the leaves are falling from the trees.

For the MBTA however it's a different type of season. It's slippery rail season. Slippery rail is very common during the end of end of September through mid-November when leaves are falling from trees and clinging to the tracks below.

Slippery Rail is caused when a train, which pushes a large amount of pressure onto a rail as it moves, passes over a wet leaf that has been sitting on a rail. Over time the combination of the leaf's oil and water creates a black gooey substance that layers itself on top of the rail. As this black goo builds up on the rail, it makes it much harder for a train's wheels to gain traction.

During the fall months the residue requires engineers on most railroads in the United States to break earlier and accelerate slower in order to avoid slippage. In extreme circumstances the resultant loss of traction can cause trains to slide through signals or cause inability to pull away from stops or up inclines. If the problem is left unchecked it can cause millions of dollars in damage to equipment and severely cripple on-time performance.

To fight back against Slippery Rail, the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad (MBCR), the company that operates the commuter rail system for the T, devised a plan in 2005 to create a high pressure system that would blast water onto the rails and take the gooey residue right off. The high pressure washer trains safely blast away leaves and residue, using 15,000 pounds per square inch of water pressure without causing damage to the rail.

The MBTA currently owns two pressure washers which were both built by MBCR maintenance employees. The washers include a diesel generator pump, and control cab which are mounted on a flat car. The trains also includes a tank car, which holds 22,000 gallons of water, a caboose, and two work locomotives.

The trains can travel at speeds of around 15-25MPH while still blasting off residue.

Prior to the fall season, MBCR crews cut back trees and shrubs along the MBTA's commuter rail routes to hinder leaves from falling onto tracks.

The MBCR is planning on running train set's during off-peak hours, weekends, and nights this fall.

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