Despite the efforts of the MTA to keep the tracks clean, litter in the system remains an on-going challenge. To give you an example, in May last year there were 50,436 delays in the subway. Though most delays are caused by overcrowding, 697 of the delays were the result of track fires, possibly caused in part by trash and debris on the tracks. As part of the on-going Operation Track Sweep initiative, the MTA is now testing out two prototypes of track vacuum systems that would be more portable than the current vacuum trains (VakTraks) used by the subway system. These new vacuum systems, called “Vakmobiles” are battery powered, using lithium iron phosphate batteries and can be easily transported on revenue trains.

The tests will take place over the course of 30 to 45 days along two routes:

  • In Manhattan from Lexington Av/53 St em on the Queens Boulevard ef line to W4 St-Wash Sq abcdefm on the Sixth Avenue bdfm and Eighth Avenue ace lines, which is a chain of 15 stations.
  • In Queens along the Queens Boulevard corridor from Jamaica-179 St f to Queens Plaza emr, which is a chain of 20 stations.

Vakmobile-MTA Test Vacuum-Operation Track Sweep-NYC-3Photo by MTA

Currently, the system deploys two 224 feet vacuum trains (VakTraks), capable of sucking in 70,000 cubic feet of air a minute. The French-built diesel trains commissioned specifically for New York City’s system run at night at 1.5 to 4 miles per hour when working, with five cars: two to power the train, one equipped with a vacuum-blower and two to filter and store the trash. Starting in June 2016, the MTA employed a new targeted system that prioritizes stations based on amount of trash removed. As a result, the MTA cleans 94 stations every two weeks, an improvement from from cleaning tracks at 34 stations every two weeks prior to the change. The MTA has ordered three new vacuum trains, the first which will arrive this year with the others arriving next year.

In September 2016, the MTA initiated a two-week intensive system-wide clean, in which more than 500 workers removed trash and debris from tracks in all 469 stations.

Read more in our Cities 101 Column on the MTA’s maintenance trains