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Metro-North testing air purifiers on trains that can kill COVID-19 and other airborne viruses

Thomas C. Zambito
Rockland/Westchester Journal News

Metro-North unveiled an air purification system Thursday for its trains that officials say can kill COVID-19 and many other airborne viruses.

The railroad becomes the first in North America to test the system on its fleet.

If a pilot program goes well, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has plans to introduce it on the Long Island Rail Road and New York City subways, officials said.

“It’s a first-of-its kind program that brings our existing air filtration system to a new and enhanced level,” Metro-North President Catherine Rinaldi said Thursday during a press conference at Grand Central Terminal. “We want the air inside our trains to be the cleanest it can possibly be.”

Metro-North Railroad chief mechanical officer James Heimbuecher demonstrates air purification technology designed to remove airborne viruses and bacteria from the MTA's Metro-North railroad cars. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The state-of-the-art technology replaces the air inside a train car every five minutes. It uses an an electrical field to generate a wave of ionized particles that destroy viruses and bacteria, officials say.

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The railroad began testing the system on its Harlem and Hudson lines this month. If successful, it would be expanded to all 1,100 trains in Metro-North's fleet, including those on the New Haven Line.

The mechanical parts of an air purification system designed to remove airborne viruses and bacteria hangs down Thursday from a door installed on the ceiling of an MTA Metro-North railroad car.  (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

“Not only will this kill COVID-19 but it’s going to kill other viruses and other bacteria as well,” said James Heimbuecher, the railroad’s chief mechanical officer. “The flu, common cold. All these types of pathogens will be destroyed with this system. We’re really looking forward to it.”

Rinaldi said ridership has improved since Labor Day after being down 95% during the early days of the pandemic.

The railroad’s daily ridership is down 77% from its normal level for this time of year. Weekend ridership is down 50%.

“Our ridership is coming back,” Rinaldi said.