NYCT installing redundant signs on 7 trains

By · Published in 2008


The circle and diamond designations for local and express trains seem rather familiar. (Photos by M. Roberts for the Daily News)

Ah, the good ol’ 7 line. More crowded that most U.S cities’ entire public transportation networks and long the testing ground for new MTA programs — how’s that project line working? — John Rocker’s favorite trains will again change the way it announces whether its trains are running express or local.

In October, the MTA introduced an LED light pilot program to help differentiate trains. The test lights were fairly straightforward: Trains whose LEDs read LCL were going local, and those with LED lights that said EXP were, obviously, going express.

Yesterday, the MTA unveiled the results of this LED light indicator test. As Pete Donohue reported, 7 trains will be equipped with red diamonds or green circles to indicate express or local service, respectively. Donohue writes:

NYC Transit has begun rolling out subway trains with new digital signs brightly declaring if they are running express or local: a red diamond for express, a green circle for local. The first train fully loaded with the broadsides hit the rails during [Monday’s] rush. More subway cars will be rigged in the coming weeks and months.

“It looks sharp,” No. 7 line General Manager Louis Brusati said of the markings. “It will immediately tell people what train it is.”

NYC Transit President Howard Roberts said: “It is another step in making the ride on the No. 7 line as smooth and effortless as possible.”

Transit officials hope to trim train delays by making it easier to identify express and local trains. Service announcements are made on trains and in stations, but riders often are puzzled.

Now, I’m all for bringing in new technology for our subways, and that’s what New York City Transit is doing with these line manager programs on the L and 7. Donohue notes that digital communication signs on station mezzanines along these two lines will be rolled out in the next two months. These signs could give information about train delays or route changes. I’m not quite sure how the 7 and L trains can really change their route, but that’s neither here nor there. The fact that these technologies are on the way is a major achievement.

I am still stumped though about this seemingly new way to indicate express or local service along the 7 line. Back in the day — and by “the day,” I mean the late 1990s — 7 trains used their rollover signs for this designation. Diamond 7’s always ran express while circle 7’s always ran local. But at some point in the last few years, NYCT employees decided that it was too hard to change a bunch of rollover signs during depot stops, and so passengers grew so confused that the MTA had to install something new over a system that was already in place.

We don’t know how much this LED light program costs, but considering that the MTA is not really in a position to spend frivolously right now, I have to wonder if asking employees to take the time to turn the rollover signs would really be that inconvenient right now. There’s really no point in installing an unnecessary technology on top of something that isn’t yet obsolete.

17 Responses to “NYCT installing redundant signs on 7 trains”

  1. The Secret Conductor says:

    Does anybody think this will work? Only if the customer remembers which one is which. Also, unless the pictures of the signs are bad, the LED’s seem to light each other up. The red diamonds seem to have a circle and the circle seems to light up the diamond… it probably works best at night.

    I have had people ask me what is the next stop right at my window right after I made the announcement FOR THE NEXT STOP!! lol

    Well, hey, at least its something. I guess it will work for most people riding the line.

  2. StationStops says:

    ARGH! This is so typical.

    Red and Green, diamond and circle, are not descrivtive icons (like say, a red line through a cigarette), they are LEGENDS (ambiguous icons you need to explicitly assign meaning to beforehand to assign meaning).


    If you are going to put a sign on the train which indicates express-ness – go ahead and SPELL IT OUT – ‘EXPRESS’ / ‘LOCAL’.

    Better yet, why not put little LED signs on there which simply LIST THE STOPS THE TRAIN MAKES.

    I mean, heck, if we can put a man on Coney Island…

  3. Angus Grieve-Smith says:

    Having the conductors and operators change every roll sign would increase dwell time at Times Square significantly. You could reduce this dwell time with a staff of ten people whose job was to run in and change the roll signs on every train, but I think these LEDs would be significantly cheaper.

    I agree that the lights seem to bleed into each other, but eventually people will just get used to the colors.

  4. Julia says:

    In my experience, 7 trains typically have more than enough time at Times Square and Main Street to set the rollover signs. Even at rush hour, the trains sit for a few minutes; they time it so that one train leaves right after the next one arrives. They frequently have someone sweep out trash from each car at Times Square; setting the signs would take even less time than that.

    I agree — ugly, confusing, unnecessary. Sure, regular riders will learn to read the LED symbols. But we learned how to listen for the conductor yelling “LOCAL LOCAL LOCAL,” too. Red and green lights already mean something other than “express” and “local” for transit purposes, and they don’t relate to the way express and local are designated on the subway map, which I think will create more confusion for tourists. (Not to mention that they look terrible with purple.)

  5. Kid Twist says:

    They should be able to control the rollsigns on all 11 cars from a single location. Failing to change them is pure laziness.

    I saw one of these trains this morning. The LCD diamond was so bright that it made it hard to see the purple disc with the 7. And after arriving at Times Square, the train went back out to Flushing as a local — with the express diamond still lit. So the same people who are too lazy to change the rollsigns are also going to be too lazy to hit the light switch.

    The test cars at least said EXP and LCL so you didn’t have to look at a map or sign to decode the lights. That seemed like a sensible revival of an old idea — all the car models from R1 through R40 had small signs up front that lit up to say EXP or LOCAL.

  6. Alfred Beech says:

    I agree with StationStops. Putting pink hearts, yellow moons or orange stars in the windows of a train is no way to communicate anything about what stops are made.

    “Exp” is better, but is the MTA division of creative signage really so hard-strapped that they can’t afford the other three letters?

    I like the idea of LEDs on the outside of the train, telling you where it’s going next. If they can do that on the inside, why not above the doors on the outside? The door is the only part of the train I’m looking at when flying down the stairs to catch a train that’s about to depart.

  7. Kevin says:

    Think about it this way. A lot of people who take the 7 are not tourists but immigrants commuting from the middle of Queens to Manhattan and vice versa. The LCL/EXP signs are all red and are more difficult for immigrants to understand than a green circle and red diamond. One alternative would be to use bi-color LEDs to change colors for LCL/EXP but the TA seems to have something against that.

    But as a daily rider of the 7, I welcome this change because it’s awfully difficult at times to hear the PA system to determine what train it is. Sure we’ve learned to strain to hear the announcements but I think regular riders will learn to trust the signs if they function as well as the TA thinks they will. Remember, the 7 is not a tourist line…it only has 3 Manhattan stops and the shuttle duplicates two of the stops already. It’s meant to serve regular commuters and this will go a long way to help cut confusion on the platform.

  8. Marc Shepherd says:

    They should be able to control the rollsigns on all 11 cars from a single location.

    Yeah, but they’re still running older equipment on the 7. Newer trains do indeed have that capability.

    I don’t really have a sense for how many people benefit from this new feature. The 7 is mainly a commuting line, and I suspect even the most dull-witted commuters eventually figure out how the thing works. The most likely destinations for non-regular riders would be the Manhattan stations and Shea Stadium, and every train makes those stops. Regulars, to be sure, will quickly figure out that a circle means local and a diamond means express.

  9. Marc Shepherd says:

    These signs could give information about train delays or route changes. I’m not quite sure how the 7 and L trains can really change their route, but that’s neither here nor there.

    L trains sometimes short-turn at Broadway Junction. 7 trains sometimes short-turn at Shea Stadium. I’m not sure that these changes are frequent enough to be a major point of confusion, but they do happen.

  10. Kid Twist says:

    A lot of tourists use the Flushing Line every year for the U.S. Open.

  11. R2 says:

    Diamond = express
    Circle = local

    This isn’t rocket science, people!

    Glad to see these, btw.

    And no big deal for short-turns, just get off and wait for the next train.

  12. Kevin says:

    Yeah the short turns shouldn’t be too much of an issue. You’re going to end up on the same train whether its at your home station or at 111. People complain about it because they don’t understand why something needs to be taking OOS (or are just ignorant). What they could do is make better announcements about this at the very least by saying its a Shea Stadium or 111-bound train for the entire run. They usually say its the train to Flushing when it’s actually only to 111, which is probably why a lot of people complain about it.

  13. Tomás says:

    I agree with Mr. StationStops. Why don’t leave it the way it used to be always since I recall? Or, put the LEDs in the entire system, not only on the 7 train. It doesn’t have sense for me installing this lights in one line, while using another pattern -the circles and diamonds- in the rest of the lines.
    And I think it’s not a problem for immigrants to learn the difference between LCL/EXP. It’s simply a matter of learning the basics of the subway while you come to this city, and this applies also for tourists. I’ve been asked lots of times how to ride the subway from people living abroad and one of the basic things you have to “teach” is how to differenciate between a local and an express train, not so frequent outside NYC (I’m a native NYer living now in Spain).

  14. Angus Grieve-Smith says:

    The signs are meant for regular riders. We know how the system works, but if you’re waiting at Grand Central or Queensborough Plaza, either you hang back to wait and lose your chance for a seat, or you charge in and then have to fight your way back out if you’re wrong.

    Any new rider who needs to get off at a local stop will probably have the “green circle” thing mentioned by the person who gives them directions.

    I say the dwell time is too short, Julia says it’s long enough. The only way to resolve that conflict is to time how long it takes to change the roll signs in six cars.

    New Spanish-speaking immigrants always crack up the first time they hear the conductors shouting “Loco loco loco! Loco tren!” They know what it really means, but it sounds pretty funny in Spanish.

  15. Julia says:

    My train this morning was proudly displaying its red LED diamond. It was annoyingly bright, but hey, you couldn’t miss it. Unfortunately, it was a LOCAL train. (Perhaps “loco” would be more accurate.)

    I’d like to officially switch my position on the rollover signs. If the train crew can’t be bothered to press a button to make the LED signs correct, how can I possibly expect them to actually walk into the cars and change the manual ones?

  16. Joe says:

    About 6 months ago, I e-mailed the TA about this very issue. Then, I was at my grandfather’s visiting and I heard about this and I was intrigued.

    The system should be clear to beginners and seasoned commuters alike. The PA system in the subway is useless. Always has been. They should be like the 4 and 5 and the 2 and 3. Digital boards that light up for all stops, listing connections/transfers and an automated announcement.

    I took the 2 train uptown to 42nd to grab the 7 (I work in Queens), and it was easy to follow it along (Never took the 2 train before). Picked up the 2 at Park Place, going uptown, and watched the sign board as the stops were made. It’s clear at a glance where the train is going, and what the next stop is.

    The human conductor should have the right to override the digital announcements if there is a problem. I was on the 4/5 the other day and it was stuck at 14th St because it was RIGHT behind a 5 that I just missed that rolled out of the station.

    The bottom line is that the signs, no matter what technology, are only as accurate as those people that change them. It should be one button to hit, and everything changed.

    Get rid of the PA system, and go to the automated announcers with the boards lighting up all the stops.

    Keep the conductor, it’s another level of security and confidence should there be a problem or emergency.

    The bottom line is that the system should be easy to use, and you should know at a moments glance or earshot:

    1) Where your train is
    2) What direction it is going.
    3) Next stop on the train.
    4) What stops it makes (lit board).

    That would make more folks secure when taking the train. Some of DO use the local #7 trains, ya know :).

  17. Metsfan124 says:

    Why when I get on ots a red diamond then 3 stops later I’m on a green circle stopping everywhere??? I just don’t get it.

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