Upgraded rail washer, drones to reduce impact of slippery rail created by leaves, debris on tracks

BOSTON – October 19, 2018 – Keolis Commuter Services (Keolis) and the MBTA have made further investments to ensure that when leaves begin to fall, the railroad is prepared. Every fall many railroads around the world experience what is known as slippery rail. This occurs when leaves and debris fall onto the track. As trains pass, wheels crush the leaves and transform them into a slick film on the track, which can cause delays.

“Together with the MBTA, Keolis teams have made improvements to reliability during slippery rail season. We prepare months in advance of the fall and have a plan in place that strengthens our approach to this seasonal challenge,” said David Scorey, CEO and General Manager, Keolis. “We have made significant investments to update equipment, helping us to remove debris more efficiently and effectively than ever before on commuter rail.”

Specifically-designed MBTA train cars equipped with special rail pressure washers clean the track along heavily wooded routes where slippery rail conditions are most likely. A $750,000 investment to improve this high-powered rail pressure washer helped increase PSI strength from 15,000 to 24,000 and enable it to clean tracks at up to 40 mph, compared to 10 mph last season.

Faster track speeds and higher wash-pressures enable Keolis teams to clean more of the MBTA commuter rail network during the limited hours when passenger service is not operating. This helps to further improve service reliability for passengers. Previous investments into this high-pressure wash train and a targeted vegetation management plan helped to reduce slippery rail delays by 20 percent in 2017, and with continued investments this year further improvements are expected.

After the power washer cleans the rail, gels and specialized sand solutions are applied to the rails to help improve train traction. To help identify areas in need of clearing, Keolis deploys drones to view track with a build-up of leaves and debris.

In fall’s slippery rail conditions, trains are required to begin braking for stops sooner and take more time to re-gain speed when departing a station. As a result, a train needs more time to travel its route, which can create delays.

To learn more about slippery rail and mitigation efforts underway at Keolis and the MBTA, watch this animated video: