Thursday, October 28, 2010

Transport: Leaves? Oh, come on...

GO Transit's Barrie-Bradford Line train #801 departed Toronto, Ontario on 28-October-2010 with a locomotive on each end--an unusual practice designed to deal with fallen leaves

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Earlier this week, GO Transit, the local commuter rail operator in the Great Toronto-Hamilton Area, made the news by canceling a train because of leaves on the tracks. While loose leaves on the track certainly can lead to adhesion problems, this is far from a new problem and there are plenty of known mitigation techniques for the seasonal phenomenon--it's pathetic that GO would have to cancel a train because of leaves.

The cancellation of the train on Tuesday was especially ironic considering that GO had already taken action to ensure continued service on one of its lines. Starting last week, GO started placing engines on each end of the first two trains that ran on its Barrie-Bradford Line in the morning and afternoon commutes. Normally, GO runs its trains in a push-pull fashion with one engine on the east end of the train; these trains ran with an engine on the west end and the east end; I photographed one of these trains earlier today as shown above. The idea was that with double the power available on the train, any problem from leaves would be overcome, and indeed trains on that line have been operating normally.

However, no such precautions were taken system-wide, with is not necessarily surprising, since GO does not have two locomotives for each of its trains. There are plenty of other ways to avoid the issue, though. Network Rail in Britain goes out of its way to trim trees along its right-of-way, but perhaps most relevantly, operators in the northeastern United States use water to blow the leaves off the tracks.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's "Spray Train" was noted in action on the Lowell Line in Medford, Massachusetts on 26-October-2005

Both the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) around Boston, Massachusetts and Metro-North, the operator from New York, New York to east of Hudson River and Connecticut destinations, use this technique. The MBTA's "Spray Train" was photographed above five years ago, and Metro-North's version is known as "Waterworld". Each uses high-pressure streams of water aimed at each rail to clear the immediate vicinity of flying leaves.

The MBTA "Spray Train" worked its way back to Boston at Medford, Massachusetts on 26-October-2005

Falling leaves are an annual event in Ontario. GO Transit may not need "Waterworld" to run its trains in the autumn, but it needs to do better than it did this week--there's no excuse for canceling trains because of leaves.

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