MTA

The city hopes to declutter its 662 miles of track to prevent train-delaying debris fires.

To the people who throw candy wrappers and coffee cups onto New York’s subway tracks: No, your garbage does not gently decompose, providing nutrients for furry moss, strange fungi, and other subterranean flora.

Rather, city workers regularly go around picking up the trash and dead rats that accumulate on the tracks, using a combination of elbow grease, “vacuum trains,” and now a bunch of experimental, super-sucking hose-boxes.

MTA

The “Vakmobile” devices, which look like metal cabinets with thick tubes that workers aim at garbage, are portable enough to be transported by train to different stations. They run on rechargeable, lithium-iron phosphate batteries and, to judge from the below Metropolitan Transportation Authority video, appear powerful enough to drain a small swamp.

The vacuums are the latest phase of the city’s Operation Track Sweep, an effort to keep its 472 subway stations clear of the 40 tons of crap they accumulate daily. It’s not just an aesthetics issue; fires from detritus on the tracks are a repeat cause of subway disruptions. The vacuums are being deployed in Manhattan and Queens, with a possible expansion to other boroughs in the near future. If the city likes the results, it plans on buying more and using them throughout the system.

The next development in Operation Track Sweep will be the addition of three new track-vacuum trains to the subway’s fleet in 2017 and 2018. These vehicles scoot from station to station to gobble up as much as 378 cubic feet of trash in a day. If you haven’t had the luck to see a vacuum train in operation, here’s one dully roaring through Brooklyn last May:

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Four young adults exercise in a dark, neon-lit gym.
    Life

    Luxury Gyms Invite You to Work Out, Hang Out, Or Just Work

    With their invite-only policies and coworking spaces, high-end urban gyms aspire to be fitness studio, social club, and office rolled into one.

  2. Equity

    Berlin Will Freeze Rents for Five Years

    Local lawmakers agreed to one of Europe’s most radical rental laws, but it sets the stage for a battle with Germany’s national government.

  3. A skateboarder in an empty parking lot
    Transportation

    Parking Has Eaten American Cities

    A new study documents the huge amount of space taken up by parking, and the astronomical costs it represents, in five U.S. cities.

  4. Environment

    Paris Wants to Grow ‘Urban Forests’ at Famous Landmarks

    The city plans to fill some small but treasured sites with trees—a climate strategy that may also change the way Paris frames its architectural heritage.

  5. People standing in line with empty water jugs.
    Environment

    Cape Town’s ‘Day Zero’ Water Crisis, One Year Later

    In spring 2018, news of the water crisis in South Africa ricocheted around the world—then the story disappeared. So what happened?

×