At 145th St., old signs are used to test a new real-time technology. (All photos courtesy of New York City Transit)
As Jay Walder settles into his role as the MTA’s newest CEO and Chairman, he has pushed the MTA to deliver more real-time train information. For an agency long criticized for its inability to adapt new or not-so-new transit technologies, Walder’s desire for more information has challenged the agency to come up with new solutions to old problems.
Lately, that focus has been on delivering better train arrival information to customers. Generally, aspects of transit technology that make commuters’ rides less stressful — such as countdown clocks — have been slow to come to New York. Yet, the agency is now engaged in a $200 million project to bring those countdown clocks to the A Division stations — that is, the city’s numbered subway stations. As these plans came to light in the fall, Transit could not commit to bringing the same technology to the lettered lines that make up the subway’s so-called B Division routes.
Recently, though, with a little innovation, the agency has debuted a poor man’s version of countdown clocks at some B Division stations. At a cost of just $20,000, six stations along the A and C lines in Washington Heights and Harlem will participate in a trial program that uses preexisting technology to bring real-time train arrival information underground. However, because the technology isn’t nearly as advanced as that deployed along the A Division lines, riders will receive less detailed information than the signs currently in place in the Bronx provide.
According to an agency press release, this makeshift system uses previously installed electronic signs in some stations and basic audio announcements at others to give customers at 181st, 175th, 168th, 163rd, 155th and 145th Sts. a few minutes’ notice of incoming trains. At 181st and 175th Sts., only audio announcements will be available while at the other four stations, screens will provide arrival information as well. Riders will now how many minutes and how many stations away the next trains are.
Unlike the A Division system which receives information via Automatic Train Supervision software, this simpler system relies upon the MTA’s old signal system’s track circuits to keep abreast of train movements. As of now, the technology can provide only information on a specific track and not specific trains as ATS can do. For instance, as the pictures demonstrate, the signs will say only that a train is arriving on the express or local tracks. For stations served by one line only, this won’t lead to much confusion, but where two or more routes share the same track, the signs will be somewhat less helpful.
“This is another part of the initiative to offer real time train arrival information to our customers, but here we are going about it in a different manner using existing infrastructure rather than waiting for the installation of an entirely new communications system,” NYC Transit President Thomas F. Prendergast said. “We looked at the equipment that was already in place and we have designed a pilot that responds to Jay Walder’s call to find affordable ways to make customer improvements as quickly as possible.”
Another benefit of this system is its cost. As The Daily News reported, this pilot cost just $20,000 to install, a mere fraction of the $200 million A Division price tag. A system-wide roll-out would of course cost more, but this pilot offers up substantial savings to a problem deemed intractable a few months ago.
After the jump, more pictures of the new signs at 145th St.