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Modernizing the NYC subway’s ancient technologies

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 29, 2015

This video from the MTA shows some of the vintage technologies that are still in use to control many of the NYC’s subway lines and how they are upgrading (ve. ry. slow. ly.) to safer and more reliable computerized systems. Some of control systems are more than 80 years old.

Whoa, after watching that, I’m shocked that the trains ever get anywhere at all. (via the kid should see this)

Update: The NY Times has a look at the political and logistical challenges related to upgrading the NYC subway’s antiquated infrastructure.

A computerized signal system like C.B.T.C. is also safer because trains can be stopped automatically. New York’s quest to install the new system began in 1991, after a subway derailment at Union Square in Manhattan killed five people. The train operator was speeding after he had been drinking.

More than 25 years later, the authority has little to show for its effort to install modern signals. The L line began using computerized signals in 2009 after about a decade of work. A second line, the No. 7, should have received new signals last year, but the project was delayed until the end of this year.

The process is complicated. It requires installing transponders every 500 feet on the tracks, along with radios and zone controllers, and buying new trains or upgrading them with onboard computers, radios and speed sensors. The authority also had to develop a design and software that was tailored to New York’s subway.

Over the years, the authority has kept pushing back the timeline for replacing signals. In 1997, officials said that every line would be computerized by this year. By 2005, they had pushed the deadline to 2045, and now even that target seems unrealistic.

40 years to upgrade the entire system? Embarrassing.