New York’s subway system is pretty gross; it’s full of hot air that’s packed with dirt and grime, has rats running rampant on tracks and stations and is full of trash. And while it might not be nice to look at, all that grime is also a safety issue, as trash that falls onto tracks can start fires in New York’s subway tunnels. To try and stop this from happening, the MTA has a fancy trick up its sleeve that really sucks.
To keep its tracks clean from flammable debris, the MTA uses a train it calls the VakTrak that rides the rails sucking up trash, reports CBS New York. Every night, the VakTrak train sets off along the subway system’s network of 665 miles of track sucking up trash wherever it goes, as CBS New York reports:
“We vacuum, basically, rail dust and combustible stuff, anything that can cause a fire,” Sarmiento said. “The rotation is very important, because we always — no matter how much we vacuum — there’s garbage the next day.”
Uncollected garbage or debris can cause track fires, like the one in mid-October on the 4 and 6 trains at Grand Central-42nd Street. Later that same day, service was also halted on the J line after a train struck debris near an elevated stretch of tracks in Jamaica, Queens, resulting in the evacuation of more than 100 passengers.
“You’ll find pizza boxes, you find Dunkin’ Donut stuff, you’ll find basically stuff that can cause a fire,” said Sarmiento. “It’s very vital to the system.”
To suck up things like donut wrappers and bagel scoopings, the VakTrak travels the subway network at speeds of around five to 10 mph. Along the way, it uses a high efficiency vacuum that can suck up dust and detritus from the track below. Using suction hoods positioned along the specially-designed train, the VakTrak is able to collect up to six cubic yards of trash, CBS explains.
Keeping on top of all the trash New Yorkers discard on the Subway is a massive job though, and the MTA can’t do it all with one train alone. As such, it actually deploys a fleet of three VakTrak trains across the massive network of tracks and stations.
Every day the three trains set out to clean different sections of the network, sucking up trash and taking it to dump stations spread across Brooklyn and the Bronx.