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LIRR to unleash snow-fighting arsenal in expected blizzard

The Long Island Rail Road's 80-ton snow-removal machine,

The Long Island Rail Road's 80-ton snow-removal machine, dubbed ''Darth Vader,'' clears track at the Ronkonkoma yard on Jan. 29, 2015. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

A powerful arsenal of snow-fighting machinery will clear the Long Island Rail Road’s tracks Saturday, and some open waiting rooms will help shield riders from the brutal weather.

LIRR officials said Friday that they still expect to be able to continue operating throughout the storm, despite a warning that the railroad could reduce or suspend service if more than 10 inches of snow accumulates on tracks.

LIRR spokesman Salvatore Arena said the agency — the nation’s largest commuter railroad — aims to “keep the trains moving this weekend and ensure a normal commute on Monday morning” by deploying its workers and its considerable fleet of snow-clearing equipment.

Deputy Chief Engineer Glenn Greenberg said the most versatile pieces of that fleet are the railroad’s seven jet snowblowers, which use jet engines similar to those on some military planes to pump out 680-degree air at up to 700 mph from a distance of 20 feet.

Some of the blowers date back to the 1980s, but are especially valuable because, unlike some of the LIRR’s plows and other large equipment, the jets can be used almost anywhere, including on track switches, and in even modest snowfall.

For bigger jobs, the LIRR has its “Snow Fighter” — a self-propelled, multiposition plow that can ride on rails and push snow to the right, left or in a “V”-formation. Snow “wings” extend from the sides of the vehicle to clear the LIRR’s right of way on either side of the tracks. And a multistaged “snow screw” can blow snow clear off the tracks.

Two “snow brooms” travel just 3 mph to 5 mph while doing their work, but pack a heavy punch. The vehicles, which have rotating augers in front and back, can throw snow up to 125 feet.

Following behind the brooms typically is one of the LIRR’s three cold-air blowers, blowing 19,500 cubic feet per minute at up to 525 mph. LIRR officials said the blowers are especially useful for clearing the third rail of snow, even while traveling at up to 30 mph.

And then there’s “Darth Vader” — the powerful 80-ton spreader/ditcher and newest piece in the snow fleet. Because of its size, it is typically used in eastern Suffolk, where there are wide-open areas, no electrified third rail, and where tall snow drifts tend to form.

“I think we have the right amount of equipment and a good mix of equipment that enable us to address most of the circumstances that we face,” Greenberg said.

In addition to the rail equipment, the LIRR has several small snowblowers and truck plows that it will use to clear station platforms, stairs and walkways.

The LIRR said Friday that it will keep station waiting rooms open around the clock through Monday afternoon.

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