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Metro-North Railroad’s Leaf-Zapping ‘Laser Train’ Rebranded in Bold, Retro-Futuristic Design

Metro-North Railroad
Updated Oct 17, 2023 3:45 p.m.
Metro-North Laser Train
Metro-North Laser TrainPhoto: Emily Moser, MTA Metro-North Railroad

Now Highly Visible to the Public, Laser Train Fights Leaf Slime That Damages Train Wheels and Can Cause Autumn Trains to Operate with Fewer Cars

View B-Roll of Wrapped 'Laser Train'

View Photos of Wrapped 'Laser Train'

View Video Explaining How Metro-North Uses Lasers to Combat Fallen Leaves

Metro-North Railroad today announced that its Laser Train – which clears rails of dangerous wet, slimy sludge caused by crushed fallen leaves by zapping it with lasers – has been wrapped in a bold display that makes it prominently visible to the public. Previously, the train looked unlike normal maintenance trains.

“The laser train is back, and it will be easier for our customers to spot this year,” said Metro-North Railroad President and LIRR Interim President Catherine Rinaldi. “The new wrap around the Metro-North laser train shows the talent and creativity of the Metro-North workforce, and our customers can keep an eye out as the laser train travels around throughout the region this fall.”

The laser train helps prevent autumn passenger trains from operating short of their normal length. When trains encounter the slimy leaf sludge – caused by a chemical in leaves known as pectin – they can slip along the rails as trains brake, which causes the wheels to develop a flat spot incompatible with safe operations. For trains to operate safely and quietly, wheels need to be perfectly circular, or “true”. Train cars with wheels that have flat spots are taken out of service so Metro-North machinists using precision lathes can re-true the wheels.

Inspired by NASA's "worm" logo of the 1970s, the bold, retro-futuristic design of the Laser Train wrap was a collaborative effort between Metro-North's operations, safety and asset management teams. It features illustrations of leaves commonly found throughout Metro-North's vast service area in temperate deciduous forests commonly found in the northeast United States.

The wrap comes as the railroad is debuting a 40th anniversary Heritage Series of locomotives paying homage to the railroad’s predecessors.  

The Laser Train locomotive can be seen rolling throughout the territory, clearing leaves from the track area. Metro-North received the Rail Safety Gold Award in 2023 from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) for developing a Laser Train capable of operating 60 mph, which allows Metro-North to clean the territory at least once a day.

The Long Island Rail Road first deployed laser trains in 2017 before exporting the concept to Metro-North. Metro-North expanded their laser train fleet in 2023 following a successful 2022 pilot run. 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.