Management & Operations

Keolis prepares for slippery rail season caused by fall foliage

Posted on October 28, 2014

Photo Rob Bulmahn via Flickr
Photo Rob Bulmahn via Flickr
While the colors of autumn make for picture postcard scenery, the leaves can create special hazards for railroads as they fall on the tracks, making them wet and slippery. Keolis announced a new initiative to reduce the impact of wet leaves on train departures and arrivals throughout the MBTA commuter rail system this fall season.

“It doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal, but falling leaves can have a serious impact on the operations of any railroad located in regions where trees shed their foliage,” said Keolis GM Tom Mulligan.

A video produced by Keolis illustrates the problem and solutions. http://vimeo.com/109820783



According to Keolis officials, leaves fall on rail tracks and then become wet from rain or dew. When train wheels run over them, the tremendous force crushes the leaves into a Teflon-like coating that can later cause train wheels to lose traction with the rail. When a train attempts to speed up or slow down, this slippery substance - called pectin – can cause the wheels to slip along the rails. As a result, engineers are sometimes forced to slow down or brake early to prevent this sliding in the name of safety.

Keolis began monitoring slippery rail hot spots throughout the system in early October and has assigned a dedicated team to focus on leaf removal. The company uses a variety of specialized equipment to keep the tracks clear.

They include:

High Pressure Rail Washer trains used for commuter rail routes out of North and South stations. These specialized trains contain a locomotive, a power washing car and a tank car to hold the water, which are used to reduce slippery rail hot spots by pressure washing the rails with 15,000 pounds per square inch of water, which hits the rails at 50 gallons per minute, leaving them free of leaf residue.

Sanding equipment attached to each locomotive, allowing engineers to apply the sand manually to slippery rails.

Specialized trucks that can apply a traction gel to problem areas, and is installing permanent trackside gel applicators in known trouble areas.

When slippery rail occurs on untreated rail, Keolis engineers are trained to adjust their speeds and braking for our passenger’s safety, sometimes causing delays.

“Fall is beautiful in New England, but slippery rails are not,” said Mulligan. “Unfortunately, leaf-slippage and related delays can’t be completely eradicated, but on-time performance is critical to us and our passengers, even when leaves get in our way. We are committed to making sure this yearly occurrence has as little impact on our passengers as possible by reducing the chance of delays so everyone in our region can enjoy the lovely fall season.”

Photo Rob Bulmahn

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