Every Fall, Baristaville commuters on NJ Transit experience delays around Glen Ridge when slippery black ooze appears on the rails. Rotting leaves and dirt gets smushed under the tracks – it’s called “black rail.” NJT is using the powers of Aqua Track, a machine blasting 10,000 gallons of water to rid the rails of the nuisance goo that creates a slippery slope. From The Star Ledger:
Black rail is an issue around the state and beyond, but because the tracks just east of the Glen Ridge Station climb one of the steepest grades in the NJ Transit system, the area was always among the most vulnerable.
When the rails were stained with ooze, NJ Transit’s trains couldn’t get purchase at Glen Ridge. Westbound, they couldn’t make it up the hill. Eastbound, they couldn’t brake in time for the station.
The machine, which is operated by a six-person crew, covers 234 miles of rail on an average weekday.
The leaf-cleaning train consists of four cars — a diesel-powered locomotive, two tank cars and the Aqua Track.
The Aqua Track has two high-powered pumps, each driven by growling, 250-horsepower diesel engines whose exhaust fumes hang heavy in the air above the flatbed car.
The pumps pull the water from the tanker cars and blast it through two nozzles near the rear wheels on the flatbed car.
“The nozzles are aimed at the sweet spot,” Blauvelt said, pointing over the back of the flatbed car to the area where the steel rails are most shiny.
The sweet spot is where the wheels of the train car make contact with the steel rails. The rails are 2 1/2 inches wide. The sweet spot is about the width of a dime. When the black ooze builds up there, the trains slip and fall behind schedule, Blauvelt said.
The water is shot at the sweet spot through the nozzles at a pressure of 10,000 pounds per square inch. That’s between three and five times stronger than the type of pressure washer usually used in residential applications like deck scrubbing.
The blast of the Aqua Track is so strong it would bore a hole into the steel rails if it didn’t keep moving, Blauvelt said.
And so it moved, at about 30 mph, west past the Bloomfield Station, where commuters on the platform looked up from their newspapers to study the skirt of mist that trailed it, and up the hill toward Glen Ridge.