Home MTA Absurdity LED lights on the 7 detail express or local service

LED lights on the 7 detail express or local service

by Benjamin Kabak

New signs illuminate the 7 train. Wonder express or local no longer. (Photos by Ryan O’Horo.)

On and off for the last few months, I’ve gotten questions about the 7 train. Take, for example, this one from my friend Carla: “How about doing an expose on why the 7 can’t get its damn local/express signage right?”

While I don’t ride the 7 train much — two trips to Shea this summer and one to the U.S. Open — I’ve wondered this lately myself. A few years ago, 7 express trains were demarcated by the diamond 7, and locals operated under the traditional round purple bullets.

But earlier this year, something changed. These signs, used interchangeably on the same trains, stopped meaning anything. Passengers had to rely on increasingly inaudible announcements to determine which trains were local and which trains were express. Well, not anymore.

This week, loyal reader Ryan O’Horo e-mailed about me about a 7 train equipped with LED lights that are designed to differentiate between express service and local service. A thread on Subchat corroborated the story. It seems like the MTA is testing out a way to allow passengers to tell the difference. The lights are hanging on only a few cars on the 7 line. Here’s what Ryan had to say:

Spent a good amount to time checking it out. It’s only this one train and the displays are mounted in the front, side and rear rollsigns both inside and outside the car. Simple modules that look custom and they’re just kind of hanging out in the rollsign, no fancy mounts.

According to the Subchat thread, the signs — using EXP for express and LCL for local — are supposed to go green or red, respectively, depending upon the service. So far, we haven’t seen that happen. But we have seen a lot of the signs as Ryan took a set of photos I uploaded to flickr. The thumbnails of a few images below lead to the larger images. For more shots, the photoset is here:

img_3525-800x600.JPG lllrotate.jpg img_3537-800x600.JPG

While clearly still an experimental stab at identifying trains, these LED signs are a good step in the right direction. I will forever wonder why the diamond-bullet variances couldn’t work to identify express and local services. I am also a little mystified as to why the MTA is invested in LED lights when they already have signs that should tell the difference between express and local service. But as long as the Authority is willing to listen to those Queens-bound customers who didn’t know if their trains were express or local, we can’t complain too much now.

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lillied October 4, 2007 - 1:30 am

Anything the MTA can do to make Carla’s life a little easier gets an A in my book.

Scott October 4, 2007 - 8:38 am

It’s about time they do something. I figure that, until they get new trains with electronic signage to run on the 7 line, like they use on the 2, 4, 5, and 6 (probably when the west-side extension opens), this temporary fix will do.

The reason they are usually inaccurate, I assume, is because each of the rollsigns have to be changed manually. So, at Flushing-Main Street or Times Square/42nd Street, someone (or some combination of people) would have to walk through all eleven cars changing those rollsigns. Considering the train fills up with passengers as soon as the doors open, it would take them forever to do this, so they just don’t bother anymore.

You’d think those fancy multi-color electronic signs that hang in the stations today could give you the same information about an approaching train, but all they seem to do is tell the time and date. (Maybe that’s another story for another day).

That’s my guess anyway.

Benjamin Kabak October 4, 2007 - 8:53 am


Funny you should mention those mutli-color signs with the time and date. I’ve got a post lined up for this afternoon all about how accurate they are (or, in this case, are not).

Julia October 4, 2007 - 11:49 am

Huzzah! I’ve only seen these on one train so far, but this is great news. I guess they really are listening to those rider report cards.

Carla October 4, 2007 - 1:13 pm

Vindication! Though the signs are pretty hard to see…oh well. Something is better than nothing.

eric the beehivehairdresser October 4, 2007 - 4:41 pm

Any chance you know how much those LED light cost us all?

BTW, Yesterday I received my very first subway report card while passing through Times Square station…to the 7.

Victoria October 4, 2007 - 8:41 pm

Hmm that’s so bizarre that they just stopped using the diamond/circle method of differentiation…

Incognito October 4, 2007 - 9:40 pm

The introduction of the “LCL” and the “EXP” is a stop gap measure. I believe both light up in red. The idea was for the train crew to inform boarding customers if the train was local or express.

Folks are seeing the prototype train running in test mode. When the 7 starts replacing cars the new cars will have displays that tell the customers if it’s going local or express – just like the diamond 6 cars do. There was no discussion about phasing out the diamond 7 and circle 7 symbols.

qunslocal October 5, 2007 - 9:17 am

I live off a local stop and work off of 5th ave and if you can’t hear the announcement or if the conductor doesn’t make the announcement you are left wondering what train you are on until you leave Queensboro plaza. If the engineer would just change the sign on the front of the train it would be a great help but most don’t even so that. So these new LED’s would be a great help if they are used on more than just a few trains. This issue would have been fixed a long time ago if riders got on at 86th st on the east side or 72nd on the west side and didn’t know if they were on a local or express until the train went down the track.

SG October 5, 2007 - 1:59 pm

Thank goodness! Amazing that it took them this long to figure out that this is a serious problem. One wonders why they ordered the 7 trains without the LED signs that they have on the 2, 4, 5, and 6 in the first place! Oh, wait, the 7 serves mostly Queens… no need to waste money on them!

ABG October 5, 2007 - 7:46 pm

“One wonders why they ordered the 7 trains without the LED signs that they have on the 2, 4, 5, and 6 in the first place!”

The cars that are currently on the #7 train are all cars that used to run on the 1,2,3,4,5 and 6 lines. They tried to run the new R160s on the #7, but there was some incompatibility. A lot of the upgrades are designed to address that incompatibility; eventually the TA wants to implement CBTC on the #7.

Alon Levy October 6, 2007 - 1:17 am

They ordered those cars in the 1980s. The 7 never got the newer R142s because, if I remember correctly, the trains used on the 2, 4, 5, and 6 were older Redbirds rather than R62s.

mg October 7, 2007 - 11:59 pm

The 7 couldn’t fit the R160s at all, those run on the lettered lines and are quite a bit wider. The cars that run on the 7 now are from the 80s and are similar to the ones on the 1 line. The oldest trains still in use are on the A/C/E with the corrugated sides and were originally built in the 60s. They are being phased out as the N/Q/J/Z/L gets the brand-new R160s.

It’s never good when the 7 line shuts done « Second Ave. Sagas | Blogging the NYC Subways October 10, 2007 - 3:54 pm

[…] both directions from Flushing to Times Square. There is, however, no express service today. I guess the LED lights will all be saying LCL […]

Kev October 24, 2007 - 5:04 pm

even those leds arent in working order I got on a train where the last car showed local and a few cars down the leds said Express..goes to show

Second Ave. Sagas | Blogging the NYC Subways » Blog Archive » NYCT installing redundant signs on 7 trains April 2, 2008 - 12:32 am

[…] October, the MTA introduced an LED light pilot program to help differentiate trains. The test lights were fairly straightforward: Trains whose LEDs read […]


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