MTA will use ‘magnetic wands’ to clean pounds of steel dust from NYC subway tracks

April 13, 2018

Gov. Andrew Cuomo oversees an MTA worker testing a magnetic wand at the 9th Ave subway station in Sunset Park; photo via the governor’s Flickr

The Metropolitan Transporation Authority will deploy 700 additional “magnetic wands” to clean hundreds of pounds of steel dust from insulated joints on tracks, which accumulates when the brakes are applied. When dust builds up on joints, it can trip the circuit on the joint and cause red signals, sending a ripple of delays throughout the system. Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday tested out the wands at a Sunset Park subway station and announced a plan to buy additional wands to clean all 11,000 insulated joints deemed a priority, using funds from the recently funded-in-full emergency subway action plan.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo tests a magnetic wand; photo via the governor’s Flickr

“While we invest in 21st Century technology to modernize the system in the long term, we’re also supporting the MTA’s work to stabilize the system in the short term,” Cuomo said. “The fully funded subway action plan is going to allow the MTA to deploy innovative technology that will reduce signal-related delays and bring relief to riders faster than ever before.”

As part of the $836 million action plan, the MTA will buy 700 more wands, adding to the 300 the agency already owns. The 1,000 wands will clean 11,000 insulated joints, half of the system’s 22,000 total joints. Before wands were used, track workers had to wipe down and wire brush, or sometimes replace, the joints. Workers can now simply wave the wands across a joint, picking up whatever conductive steel dust lies below.

Insulated joint failures, which stem from conductive steel dust build-up, is one of the most common causes of signal related delays. There are currently 286 open defects caused by insulated joint failures. With the emergency action plan fully funded, Cuomo said the defects can be fixed in 25 weeks, down from the originally estimated 50 weeks.

The wands have already removed over 580 pounds of steel dust over 821 insulated joints. NYC Transit President, Andy Byford, called them “brilliantly simple tools.” He added: “This is exactly the kind of approach we’re looking to replicate across all our disciplines at New York City Transit – out-of-the-box thinking to find a simple and easily deployable solution that will have a real impact on our customers.”


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