Home Asides Transit marks 100th IRT station with countdown clocks

Transit marks 100th IRT station with countdown clocks

by Benjamin Kabak

When New York City Transit announced plans to install countdown clocks at 75 stations along the IRT numbered routes this year, most MTA watchers scoffed at the lofty goal. The MTA has long had problems bringing technology innovation to its 105-year-old system, and other subway systems had been enjoying the benefits of countdown clocks for decades. Well, today, the authority announced that it has exceed this goal by 25. When the countdown clock at Houston St. on the 1 went live this week, it was the 100th installed in 2010.

No longer will riders impatiently tap their feet while seeking out the dim glow of an advancing train piercing through the darkness of a tunnel. “For years, transit riders in other cities around the world have been looking at digital signs to know when the next bus or train is coming,” MTA Chairman and CEO Jay H. Walder said. “But in New York, we were left peering down a subway platform looking for headlights. We’re changing that and improving our customers’ experience one station at a time.”

The MTA anticipates that the full rollout along the numbered lines will be completed by mid-2011. At that point, the authority will assess ways to bring this technology to the B Division lettered lines. “This is all about providing information to our customers who may see similar systems in other locations and ask, ‘Why not here?’ Well, we asked ourselves the same thing and we are now moving briskly ahead with this project,” NYC Transit President Thomas Prendergast said in a statement. Even as the MTA faces precarious financial times, it’s good to see forward progress.

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Andrew December 21, 2010 - 8:46 pm

Just to clarify – the 2/5 in the Bronx and the entire 7 are not yet connected to the ATS system, so they won’t have countdown clocks just yet.

As for the rest of the IRT, it does appear to be on-target for a mid-2011 completion date.

Tsuyoshi December 22, 2010 - 12:22 am

Are they only doing it on the IRT?

Benjamin Kabak December 22, 2010 - 12:45 am

For now, yes. They’re looking for solutions for B division (IND/BMT) stations that won’t cost an arm and a leg.

Jason December 22, 2010 - 7:24 am

Curious, why are B division lines more expensive/complicated?

Michael December 22, 2010 - 8:42 am

It’s not a matter of it being complicated and expensive, although it is both. The fiber optic-based communications backbone for the B Division is not built out, whereas it is for the A Division. It’s more than just running fiber optic cable through tunnels and along structures; there’s a lot of ancillary equipment and it must work reliably in the transit environment.

Michael December 22, 2010 - 8:47 am

One possibility for an alternative for the B Division would be to “grab” train location data from the block signal system that are transmitted to wayside towers and convert those data to “next train” indications. This is entirely within the capacity of existing technology.

Andrew December 22, 2010 - 8:40 pm

It’s more than that. The A Division system feeds off of the ATS (Automatic Train Supervision) system, which was installed a few years ago on most of the A Division. That’s how the signs know where each train is going.

Your proposed B Division alternative is in fact being implemented, at least at a few stations. I was at 59th Street last week when a voice informed me that a downtown local was one station away.

Farro December 23, 2010 - 11:40 am

I find that system rather useless, not only because it doesn’t eliminate looking into the tunnel (only reduces it), but also because “one station away” isn’t necessarily a useful measurement–if it’s an express train at 59th St. for example, does “one station away” mean 72nd St, or 125th St? It’s a big difference…

Benjamin Kabak December 23, 2010 - 11:43 am

Generally, it means the train is at its preceding station. At 59th St., “one station away” is 125th St.

Farro December 23, 2010 - 11:59 am

Which is unfortunately not a very useful measure…

Benjamin Kabak December 23, 2010 - 12:00 pm

You did manage to pick the one station where it might take a few minutes for the train to come. But if you know the train’s at 125th St. and you’re waiting at Columbus Circle, you know you have about 4-5 minutes.

Farro December 23, 2010 - 3:40 pm

The only other one I can think of that has it, Atlantic-Pacific, has the same problem. As do potentially several other stations (Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Ave comes to mind)

Andrew December 23, 2010 - 5:59 pm

Actually, 8-9 minutes, according to the A and D schedules. And there’s no way of knowing how many trains have already left 125th or whether something will come sooner on the local track. An announcement at 59th that an express is at 125th (with no indication of what that train is, or whether anything is in front of it, or whether a local will be coming first) is useless.

An announcement that an express is passing through 72nd, however, would be quite useful, and the signal system can provide that information just as easily.

So I hope you’re wrong, and the announcement is referring to 72nd. But in either case, it should explicitly name the station that the train is at!

If Pacific southbound has the same sort of announcement, it’s even worse – it takes 10-11 minutes for a D to get from Grand to Pacific and 10-13 minutes for an N to get from Canal to Pacific, according to the schedules. Again, there’s no reason the announcement couldn’t be made when the train is passing through DeKalb.

Farro December 23, 2010 - 6:19 pm

I don’t know about Southbound, but Northbound does and it’s not particularly useful there either

Andrew December 23, 2010 - 8:45 pm

Are you sure it’s referring to a train at 36th and not a train passing through Union?

Farro December 23, 2010 - 8:58 pm

I do remember there being a large difference between “one station away” for the R and “one station away” for the D

Andrew December 23, 2010 - 11:09 pm

Wait – it knew it was a D and not an N? Then it’s a bit more sophisticated than I thought.

Farro December 24, 2010 - 12:27 am

No it didn’t. I saw when it came that it was a D.

Chicken Underwear December 22, 2010 - 6:30 am

Why do I want to know when the 5th train will get to the station? How does that help me?

tacony palmyra December 22, 2010 - 10:16 am

Currently, there isn’t really a point to this, true. One would hope that someday these will take the guesswork out of deciding whether to, say, stand on the lower or upper platforms at West 4th for a trip to 125th at midnight.

Both the A and the D run express between those stations and take roughly the same time to do so, but they’re on different platforms. So it’d be helpful to see that the 4th train, the A, is arriving in 14 minutes but the 5th train, the D, won’t be there for 17 minutes. And there are a bunch of local trains coming sooner but it’s better to wait for the A.

Alon Levy December 22, 2010 - 6:46 am

Why have they not installed clocks at 96th yet? When the southbound 1 pulls into the station, I need to know whether to stay on or switch to the 2.

Michael December 22, 2010 - 8:43 am

They’ll get to it.

Alon Levy December 22, 2010 - 10:16 am

I’m sure they will, but given that it’s an important express station, I wonder why they’ve not installed clocks there instead of at 116th or 110th.

tacony palmyra December 22, 2010 - 10:33 am

It seems like they’ve installed them in opposite order of usefulness. The ones where there really is no option/transfer were the first to get them. Possibly because they want to do the “easy” ones before the ones where people would be relying on them being exact?

christian luckett January 4, 2011 - 7:14 pm

thats not true they had too wait for some stations too be done with the construction like 96st and 42nd st they have been working on the for years now so now that they are done at most stations now they will start with installing the countdown clocks. check out my full vids on the clocks on youtube chrisjct or just put subway countdown clocks

Farro December 22, 2010 - 12:51 pm

I think they’re trying to install them in the less-used parts of the subway system first since the whole things started out as a trial–so it makes sense to go from outer areas to inner ones..

Andrew December 22, 2010 - 9:48 pm

I don’t think importance has anything to do with to do with the installation sequence.

I can’t speak to the details, but my guess is that there are more technical challenges to implementing the system at express stops than at local stops, which could explain why relatively few express stops have working signs yet. At 96th specifically, the station rehab may also be holding things up – there’s no point in wiring a sign that the contractor is going to have to take down next week!

It also seems like there’s some degree of clustering, although it’s not perfect. For instance, there’s a long string of stations from 66th on up, with the notable exception of 96th, with the signs turned on. There’s another string from 28th on down. Is there some sort of communication equipment that is still in the process of being installed? If that equipment hasn’t been installed yet between 59th and 34th, that might explain the omission of those stations. (But it doesn’t explain why the two Wall Streets are active while their neighbors are not.)

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[…] this people’s choice award goes to a subway enhancement that’s been a long time coming: the addition of countdown clocks at more than 100 stations. The new train arrival displays are taking the guesswork out of waiting on the platform and […]


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