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New York deploy new technology to vacuum the tracks clean.

Posted by Emily O'Dowd on Jan 24, 2017

In recent years, New York's subway trackPhoto Credit: Metropolitan Transit Authoritys have seen an increasing amount of litter, leaves, newspapers and the growing number of free magazines finding their way onto them. This is making maintenance for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) more difficult and expensive, particularly when attempting to carry this out without disrupting passenger service. However, the MTA have started using a technology probably already found in your house to solve this issue. Launched at the end of last year, New York City subways are using portable truck hoovers to clean the tracks efficiently and thoroughly. This means that New York’s 472 stations, 662 track miles, and 40 tons of rubbish can be picked up and hauled away every day. The MTA are now trialling two new prototype hoovers which can be easily used from one station to the next. This is part of the Operation ‘Track Sweep’ initiative to improve the station environment, reduce track fires and delays.

Both prototypes are powered by lithium iron phosphate batteries that supply enough electricity for strong suction but can be moved from station to station on a regular passenger train and be operated from the platform. The prototypes are the third phase in an ongoing multi-pronged clean-up initiative. "Testing these new technologies is a key part in our plan to get the tracks cleaner, and keep them cleaner over the long haul,” said MTA New York City Transit President Veronique Hakim. “Once we’re sure that these units are effective we’ll be ordering additional units to deploy across the system.”

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These units are being put to the test in Manhattan and Queens for 30 to 45 days, with the goal of perfecting a vacuum unit that can be used in all subway station and track environments in order to supplement Transit’s existing fleet of vacuum trains.  Phase 1, launched in June 2016, was the implementation of a new cleaning schedule that reprioritized stations based on the amount of rubbish that accumulate, and increased track cleaning. Phase 2, launched in September 2016, was an intensive, two-week system-wide cleaning involving 469 stations and more than 10 miles of track. As part of Phase 3, the MTA began testing two powerful – but portable – track vacuum systems that can be quickly deployed and operated from platforms. Operation Track Sweep continues with a fourth phase in 2017, when the first of three new powerful track vacuum trains is due to arrive. In the meantime, customers are encouraged to help whenever possible. Another reason for the clean-up initiative stems from the subway’s thriving rodent population. By clearing up the animal’s food source it is hoped will deter them from the tracks and improve customer safety.

MTA Operation Track Sweep:


“The [MTA] wanted it to be as portable as possible. They didn’t want to trip over the wires or have to plug into a power source,” says Doan Pendleton, a representative of VAC-U-MAX, which is manufacturing one of the super-sucker prototypes the MTA is testing. 

After the trial period has been completed the MTA plan to introduce three new vacuum trains in late 2017 and 2018. The vacuum trains will operate along the tracks like a passenger trains but will be collecting 14 cubic yards of debris every day. With these two hoovering methods alongside 27 new refuse cars it is hoped that MTA’s tracks will be in full working order to deliver a better service for its passengers.

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Topics: quirky

Emily O'Dowd

Written by Emily O'Dowd

On graduating with a degree in English Literature at Royal Holloway University of London, Emily joined the editorial team. When she isn't writing articles for the website or interviewing experts in the industry she enjoys reading, running and sailing.

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