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Metro-North to Expand Use of Lasers to Combat Fallen Leaves on Rails

Metro-North Railroad
Updated May 24, 2023 6:45 p.m.

MTA Board Approves Contract to Add System that Increases Speed Resulting in Fewer Delays and Trains Being Taken out of Service 

Metro-North Ran Successful Pilot Fall of 2022 


The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) board today approved a contract that will allow Metro-North Railroad to outfit a second train to use lasers to help fight the negative impact of fallen leaves on railroad tracks and minimize the number of cars taken out of service during the fall season. The approval follows a successful pilot program that operated during fall of 2022.

Like other rail roads that operate in seasonal environments, Metro-North experiences leaf fall induced low adhesion. This condition is created by a slick substance, called pectin, left by crushed leaves on rails that gets even more slippery with light rain. When a train attempts to speed up or slow down, the pectin can cause the wheels to slip or slide along the rails. In severe cases the train will automatically make an emergency stop because the on-board computer system perceives "slip-sliding" as the train not slowing down when it should. This slip-sliding and emergency braking also creates flat spots on the train's wheels, forcing Metro-North to take much-needed equipment out of service for repairs. 

“The MTA can’t keep the leaves on the trees, but it can fight their effects on Metro North’s infrastructure and cut back on delays for our customers," said Metro-North Railroad President and Long Island Rail Road Interim President Catherine Rinaldi. “The LIRR led the way in using this technology and has seen an incredible decrease in delays and equipment issues brought on by slip slide using this system prompting Metro-North’s successful pilot last fall. It’s a game changer.” 

The contract partners Metro-North with Amsterdam-based manufacturer Laser Precision Solutions. The laser train works by using high-intensity lasers to remove contaminated layers from railway tracks, requiring only one pass to leave a smooth, clean rail behind. With the addition of a second train, all vital parts of the network can be cleaned every 24 hours. With an effect lasting at least 24 hours, this means that slip-slide will be minimized to a very low level. 

The total contract value for Metro-North Railroad, which includes a two-year base plus one year option is $3,231,300. 

During the pilot test last fall 2022, Metro-North safely cleaned over 12,000 miles of track with the laser train, which resulted in a 40% reduction in slip/slide events and the lowest wheel-true cost season on record.