By Roz Hamlett, Portfolio Editor
While PATH workers were working against the clock to clear massive snow drifts left by Winter Storm Jonas, frustrated riders wanted to know why PATH service between Newark Penn Station and Journal Square wasn’t back up and running.
Restoring full PATH service in the aftermath of Jonas was a tougher challenge than it appeared. PATH operations use a third rail to power its trains through a semi-continuous rigid conductor placed alongside or between the rails of the track. And third rails are highly vulnerable to thick accumulations of snow, and ice formed from refrozen snow.
During the storm, the PATH third rail was buried, with 2-3 foot drifts above the protection board in some areas.
Crews worked diligently to clear snow from a total of 12 miles of track, which includes two mainline tracks between Newark and Jersey City. The third rail needs to be cleared by hand – a snowplow couldn’t be used as it could damage the electrical system wiring, switches, and track signal equipment. Additionally, the use of snowplows can cause the entire third rail to topple over. Some of PATH’s snow removal equipment could not be used, as it requires third rail power, and the third rail was completely inundated with snow.
Mike Marino, General Manager of PATH, is a veteran railroad man, with more than 40 years in the rail business at Amtrak, the MTA and PATH. He says the effects of Jonas have been among the worst he’s seen on any operating railroad. Mike says PATH forces have worked tirelessly around the clock since Friday night when the storm began.
“Our PATH crews and contractors are to be commended for their commitment to getting this done in the face of freezing temperatures, significant manual labor and staggering snowdrifts. We thank them and also NJ Transit for cross-honoring PATH tickets on their trains and buses, and for providing extra bus shuttle service between Newark, Harrison, and Journal Square to help ease the inconvenience for our riders.”
Mike Marino, Director and General Manager, PATH
In comparison, other rail systems, including New Jersey Transit and Amtrak trains running along the Northeast corridor, use a catenary system, which is an overhead line or overhead wire that provides electrical power to the trains.
In extreme temperatures, the tension that supports the catenary wires increases or decreases, which can cause components in the catenary system to fail. So overhead wires can have problems in severe storms, but getting buried in a blizzard never happens.
This drawing depicts the running rail, the third rail and the part of the third rail that the train conductor shoe makes contact with to electrify and power the train for movement, and also to operate all the systems on the train (including lighting, heating, etc). When we have snow precipitation that is over this surface (which is 10 inches high), we begin to have problems running trains. Winter Storm Jonas dropped 3 times that amount of snow.