To ensure a locomotive pulling a heavy load has enough grip when a winter’s blast covers the tracks in ice and snow, engineers at GE’s transportation division have spent the last five years perfecting what can be described as a supersonic hair dryer that blasts tracks clean just inches in front of a train’s front wheels.
The ARC—or Advanced Rail Cleaner—uses a pair of nozzles pointed directly at the rails just in front of a locomotive to clean off anything and everything using a blast of air traveling at supersonic speeds. It’s the kind of thing you don’t want to put your hand in front of when running at full power, but that’s a moot point because less then a second layer a multi-ton train would ensure you wouldn’t feel whatever injuries you sustained—or anything ever again.
To date the ARC system has actually been installed on over 300 locomotives as the design has been slowly improved over its five years of development. And the final version will actually use intelligent software to detect when a train’s wheels start slipping, and automatically switch on the blower. In testing the system has been found to increase a lead locomotive’s traction by up to 30 percent which means it can not only haul even more cars, but can also take routes that were previously off-limits during certain part of the year due to cold weather and dangerous conditions.