Home Subway Security The challenges of securing the NYC transit system

The challenges of securing the NYC transit system

by Benjamin Kabak

A few weeks ago in early April, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released his eighth progress report on the state of the MTA’s capital security program. For a variety of reasons not related to the content of the report, I didn’t have a chance then to cover it then, but it’s worth our attention. As DiNapoli has noted in the past, thanks in part to a legal spat with a contractor and in part to ambitious expectations, the MTA has simply been unable to meet its schedule for implementation.

DiNapoli’s latest missive, available here as a PDF, sheds little light on what the MTA is doing. The bulk of that information has been omitted for security reasons. But the work accomplished has not moved along briskly. The so-called Phase 1 projects wrapped in February with the notable exception of the electronic security program, and that program is two years late and significantly over budget.

The original security program was a part of the 2000-2004 Capital Plan, submitted in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. At the time, the MTA expected to spend $591 million on a variety of security improvements targeting the most vulnerable and high-trafficked areas. Spending has ballooned to $882 million, and as we approach the 11th anniversary of the attacks, the electronic monitoring project, seemingly the centerpiece of Phase 1, is not expected to be ready until June 2014. By itself, it will cost $516 million, nearly double the original projection.

Electronic monitoring is fairly self-explanatory. The MTA plans to install 3000 cameras and 1400 access-control devices that are to be monitore at six area command centers and one central command center. Once this monitoring system is up and running, though, the challenges do not stop. As DiNapoli said, “Once installed, maintaining these devices in the mass transit environment will be an ongoing challenge.”

The challenges causing this delay are not entirely surprising. Four various agencies are trying to work in concert to bring 21st century equipment into a late-19th/early 20th century system. Electronics storage rooms frequently overheat; fiber optics networks degrade rapidly; and more facilities have been required. As DiNapoli notes, “Nearly half of the increased cost is due to the inclusion of additional facilities ($110 million), with most of the balance due to unplanned costs associated with facilities to house the command and control centers ($51 million) and the upgrading and repair of computer networks ($33 million).”

Meanwhile, the MTA and Lockheed Martin are fighting over the original contract. Lockheed claims the MTA did not provide needed access while the MTA has filed a counter-suit alleging various breaches of contract. The suits were filed three years ago, and the parties are still arguing.

While DiNapoli’s report doesn’t touch upon the ultimate issue, it’s worth a brief digression: Is this spending worth it? The New York City subways have been targeted in failed terrorist attacks. Thanks to better monitoring of terrorist threats, the feds and the NYPD have been able to head off attacks before they reach critical stages. Yet, our system remains a vulnerable target whether we like to dwell on that or not. To combat that, the MTA must spend on security, and it must spend on maintaining the security system for the foreseeable future. That’s not a cheap proposition, and I’m sure there’s a right or good answer here.

DiNapoli, though, tried to find some optimism. The MTA will be deferring six security projects to do the ever-popular lack of funding, but the authority has made some strides. “While the MTA’s capital security program has taken far longer and cost more than planned to complete, the regional transit system is more secure and the public better protected today,” DiNapoli said. “Further security improvements are needed and finding the necessary resources must be a priority for the MTA.”

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Alex C April 23, 2012 - 12:17 am

I’m generally in favor of this project if only because proper security monitoring would assist in catching criminals who make a break for it. I feel it will eventually come in handy when a family sues the MTA for negligence or something after someone jumps in front of a train.

Paul April 23, 2012 - 9:19 am

It’s nice to blame everything on the problems of upgrading a hundred year old system even though Paris and London successfully do it. The TA didn’t have problems installing their first and only working fiber optic network in the late 1980’s. I guess the sytem was only 80 years old then. The CCTV network won’t complete until the new SONET fiber network is working. It was supposed to be finished in 2004. TA management was told in 2004 that all the underground communications rooms needed to be have better air conditioning with vents to the street not into the subway tunnels which were already too hot in the summer. Also they knew in 2001 that they couln’t splice the new fiber cable into the old fiber cables because of signal loss on those 20 year old cables. They did it anyway and it is costing millions more to fix and years of delay. They also can’t get the police radio to work on UHF instead of the old VHF which works.

Matthias April 23, 2012 - 9:34 am

Think of all the jobs that these projects create!

3ddie April 23, 2012 - 10:34 am

This is the problem with todays’ projects, everything gets blown out of complexity and contractors, lawyers, and consultants run away with all the money before one camera even catches one guy jumping a turnstile.
This is robbery in the first degree, and after all is done, blame it on the poor union peon that is out there busting his chops.
America, we are in trouble.

Alex C April 23, 2012 - 3:18 pm

Defense contractors have been defrauding American tax payers for decades now, so Lockheed Martin ballooning the cost isn’t a surprise. Why (besides the generous kickbacks) do state agencies keep giving these deals to defense contractors? Are there no other companies with the capability to deliver a damn security system?

Russell April 23, 2012 - 2:58 pm

Just do what they did in Total Recall, X-rays at the entrance of every subway station 🙂

SEAN April 23, 2012 - 4:42 pm

I assume you know that the transit card techknology in most cities is from the same vender, a defence contractor.

Alon Levy April 23, 2012 - 5:15 pm

Wrong. The transit card technology in most American cities is from Cubic, and even then many cities either don’t do Cubic (Boston) or are trying to get out (Chicago). Outside the US, the biggest market share is by far Sony’s FeliCa, followed by NXP’s MIFARE.

normative April 23, 2012 - 5:02 pm

largest threat to nyc: america. People in nyc don’t even support the foreign interventions this country loves to get into every year. Yet, when an american bomb drops on someones house in another country and kills all his/her family, and they want revenge–where do they go. Kansas? No, nyc.

The short-sided policies of America make my life more vulnerable to such attacks every day. Why do we put up with it?

Nathanael April 24, 2012 - 6:42 am

‘Cause it’s hard to secede. Well, at the rate things are going, the majority of the people in all 50 states will want to secede, and then nobody will need to secede….

Peter Laws April 23, 2012 - 5:52 pm

$882M / 468 stations = ~$2M / station. $2M invested in something that can return 5% over time (admittedly difficult) would generate about $100k per year which is *almost* enough to hire a cop (salary+benefits are probably more like $150k).

Just the same, pretty close to what it would cost to hire 468 new cops. Almost in perpetuity.


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