MTA Metro-North, LIRR Testing Air Filtration Technology

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
MTA Metro-North Railroad (MNR) President Catherine Rinaldi and Chief Mechanical Officer Jim Heimbuecher this week announced a pilot test of air purification technology. It has already been incorporated into the existing ventilation system of the MNR car pictured. (Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)

MTA Metro-North Railroad (MNR) President Catherine Rinaldi and Chief Mechanical Officer Jim Heimbuecher this week announced a pilot test of air purification technology. It has already been incorporated into the existing ventilation system of the MNR car pictured. (Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit)

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) two commuter railroads are starting a pilot test this month of a railcar air filtration and purification system from Knorr Brake Co. and its subsidiary Merak North America LLC.

The technology was installed Oct. 7 in two existing HVAC units of an MTA Metro-North Railroad car and will be installed later this month on a MTA Long Island Rail Road car.

The move follows Metro-North’s successful proof-of-concept this summer, and is part of MTA’s COVID-19 Response Challenge, which launched in July to “engage the private tech industry and rapidly evaluate and deploy innovative technologies that make public transit safer, healthier and more responsive to customer and workforce needs in light of the global pandemic.”

Incorporated into the railcars’ existing ventilation systems, the new system is said to use “an electrical field to generate a wave of ionized particles that destroy airborne viruses, bacteria and particulate matter, including COVID-19.” Additionally, it enhances in-car air filtration—which already filters air 30 times per hour or once every 120 seconds, exceeding Centers for Disease Control (CDC) standards for certain medical facilities and surpassing standards for classrooms and restaurants, according to MTA.

The new system, developed by Knorr Brake Co. and subsidiary Merak North America LLC, works this way: It “passes air through three stages. The first stage applies an electrostatic discharge to actively target viruses, and then uses physical filtration to remove the charged particles. The air is then safely exposed within a self-contained unit, to ultraviolet radiation that has long been proven to kill bacteria, mold, and viruses. Third, the air is exposed to a wave of ionized particles that attack pollutants, chemically decomposing them. The ions further travel deeply through the air distribution ducts of the car and into the vehicle interior to enhance the railroads’ existing disinfection of surfaces inside the cars.”

Both commuter railroads will evaluate system effectiveness and its ability to scale up for installation throughout their fleets of more than 1,100 railcars each.

Researchers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are working with MTA to test the technology and determine its effectiveness in meeting public transit needs.

MTA Metro-North Railroad Chief Mechanical Officer James Heimbuecher
(Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit)

“We like that it can be incorporated into our existing ventilation systems with minimal intrusion,” Metro-North Chief Mechanical Officer James Heimbuecher said. “If this pilot proves successful, our crews are ready to begin adding this system across our entire fleet.”

MTA is the first transit agency in North America to test the technology, which was introduced in June.

It is part of MTA’s multi-faceted approach to minimizing health risk to riders and employees during the pandemic. The transit agency has also been exploring the use of ultraviolet light for disinfecting subway surfaces, with possible expansion to commuter rail. Additionally, it has increased car and station cleaning and disinfecting; deployed customer ambassadors to assist with loading and customer information; installed hand sanitizer dispensers at stations as well as vending machines selling personal protective equipment; and added floor decals to assist customers with social distancing.

Railway Age also reported on ventilation in “Transit: It’s Time to Vent.”

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