train last year and increased its speed, allowing
us to cover more territory more quickly.
The initiative has yielded major year-over-year
improvements in service while ultimately paying
for itself through reduced labor and material
costs. In 2020, low-adhesion delays were down 66%
(246 trains) compared to 2019, and down 79% (473
trains) compared to 2018. On costs, labor expenses
related to fixing flat wheels have decreased
by 34%. These figures show that our technology
works, and it’s saving customers valuable time
while saving the LIRR valuable funding.
This year we’re looking to build upon these
successes. Our team is working closely with the
vendor to improve maintainability and effectiveness
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TIMESLEDGER | QNS.COM | NOV. 5 - NOV. 11, 2021 13
How the Long Island Rail Road combats this
astonishingly annoying problem: Fallen leaves
BY PHIL ENG
When you think of fall in New York, your mind
likely fills with images of beautiful foliage and
maybe some pumpkins or apple picking. For us at
the railroad, the season is significant: While the
leaves are pretty to look at, they’re a menace to
When wet leaves on tracks get crushed by steel
train wheels, a slippery substance called pectin
forms and coats the rails. Pectin affects how our
trains brake and can cause a “slip-slide” effect,
where a train with brakes activated slides along
the rail instead of braking, creating flat spots on
the wheel. In these instances, the train must be
taken out of service in order to repair flat wheels.
This inconveniences customers, lessens the number
of cars we have in operation, and costs money
to fix in addition to causing delays and cancellations
— none of which we like to see happen.
After dealing with this issue unsuccessfully
for decades, we at the LIRR found a solution.
Two years ago, we partnered with a company to
launch the first laser train in North America. It
works by using high-intensity lasers to remove
layers of pectin from the tracks. These trains
have proved so efficient, we added a second laser
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of the laser so that our laser trains are more
reliable and their maintenance more efficient.
This means our laser trains will experience less
downtime in between runs, which again saves us
money while deploying the trains faster.
I’m incredibly proud of the LIRR team for
making this new technology not only a reality,
but a successful one. While each fall season
brings its own challenges, this cutting-edge innovation
gives us a leg up on Mother Nature’s powerful
force. We know that we cannot stop weather
events — which are only getting worse and more
frequent in recent years — but we can mitigate
We are laser focused as we lead the way to better
service and welcoming back New York to the
Phil Eng is president of MTA Long Island Rail