Home MTA Technology Photo: A B Division countdown clock, in trial

Photo: A B Division countdown clock, in trial

by Benjamin Kabak

An Instagrammer spotted some new countdown clocks at 23rd Street on the BMT Broadway line (Photo via @krislopresto)

An eagle-eyed straphanger spotted these countdown clocks on the B Division yesterday. Although he said an R came first, the point remains that some technology that had been in the discussion stages seems to be moving closer toward a reality. While A Division stations currently enjoy countdown clocks everywhere, bringing a similar PA/CIS system to the B Division would be costly and time-consuming. So what’s going on here?

I reached out to Transit to track down more information and learned that this clock is part of a test that hasn’t quite yet begun. The plan is to test the clocks at 14th St., 23rd St. and 28th Sts. along the BMT Broadway Line, and the underlying technology uses Optical Character Recognition and some scheduling information. Right now, Transit says they are still working with vendors to configure the software, and the customer information screens may display some messages while the tests move forward.

As I understand, OCR can be used to identify train sets based on scans of the car numbers as they move through the system. Such a technology can offer similar results to the A Division’s clocks, but the underlying technology is entirely different. I’ll try to have more on OCR soon, but it seems as though the plans to bring some type of countdown clock to the B Division are beginning to move forward.

You may also like


SomeGuy32 June 26, 2012 - 2:41 pm

2/3 Fulton St station still does not have countdown clocks

Kevin June 26, 2012 - 6:36 pm

Probably because that whole complex is still under construction.

SomeGuy32 June 26, 2012 - 6:51 pm

the 2/3 platforms were redone a long time ago – they actually had clocks up way before the went live – but they were taken down.

R. Graham June 27, 2012 - 1:21 am

Because when that entire complex is complete. Each platform will feature new electronic signs over the tracks reflecting what runs on that track based on the time of day. Actively changing and they likely want the countdown clocks to operate with the new signage.

Bolwerk June 27, 2012 - 5:50 pm

The last time I used the 2/3 there it was a single narrow platform. Was it widened or another platform shoehorned in?

mike d. June 27, 2012 - 10:20 pm

The platform still is unchanged. If MTA has money, they should copy Bowling Green (4)(5)…construct and open one of the side platform…smae can be done on Wall St (2)(3) side.

Bolwerk June 28, 2012 - 5:53 pm

So, is it ADA compliant now or what? It seemed like something that would be hard to shoehorn an elevator into.

mike d. June 30, 2012 - 12:48 am

The entire Fulton St station complex will be ADA.

Andrew July 2, 2012 - 10:31 pm

The 2/3 platform at Fulton St. has an elevator, all the way at the south end. (But the mezzanine doesn’t yet have an elevator to the street or to any of the other lines.)

Harlan June 26, 2012 - 2:43 pm

Cool. OCR’s not a bad idea, but RFID would be even better. Epoxy a 10-cent RFID chip onto every car and put sensors in the ceilings. Even cheaper and more reliable.

al June 27, 2012 - 11:58 am

Back in the day the Flushing Line used the IDENTRA (IDENTification of Trains and Routing Automatically) system. The lead car had an induction loop (it looked like a small tennis racket without strings) that the motorman could program to show the routing. Sensors mounted on panels along the line would allow the the station signs to show the train routing. Apparently it was also capable of throwing switches and playing recorded announcements on on LIRR trains equipped with it. All this was done with 1950’s technology.

Today, they could had done something like this with a programmable transponder and wayside receiver adjacent to signals.

You can see the IDENTRA coil mounted near the cab. The piece of equipment behind the signal lights is the wayside receiver equipment for trains in the opposite direction of the train in the picture. The wayside receiver and train signal tend to be paired near the stations.

John-2 June 27, 2012 - 1:53 pm

The R-33WF/R-36WF cars began service with the IDENTRA system, which was especially useful during the 1964-65 World’s Fair, when the Super-Express trains were also run along with the normal local and express trains on the Flushing line.

Spendmore Wastemore June 27, 2012 - 4:53 pm

This actually sounds smarter than the current system. Simpler is usually better.

Alas, it would make too much sense.

Kevin Li June 28, 2012 - 7:26 am

In my opinion, OCR is a pretty bad idea. The solution here doesn’t really match the problem at hand and comes with a host of potential problems like misrecognition of characters, dirty camera lens, and (depending on how exactly the system works) even the occasional situation where the train doesn’t stop at the right spot for the camera to catch a clear shot.

BoerumBum June 26, 2012 - 3:06 pm

What technology does the A division use?

Larry Littlefield June 26, 2012 - 3:44 pm

The equivalent of EZ-Pass tags.

I had assumed when they announced the B division roll out ahead of ATS that they would just use track circuits, so the sign would say a train was coming but it wouldn’t say which one. This is more than I expected.

Andrew July 2, 2012 - 10:30 pm

The A Division PA/CIS signs get their information from ATS.

Jordan June 26, 2012 - 3:48 pm

Why won’t the same thing work on the ‘B Division’?

alek June 26, 2012 - 3:59 pm

Same thing with the 4/5 platform @ fulton. Needs to install there too. Fulton street is a huge hub

George June 26, 2012 - 5:05 pm

Ben, it’s now official. The Bleecker Street – Broadway/Lafayette connection is opening at 5 am on Monday July 2. Please spread the news.

throcko June 27, 2012 - 12:03 pm

What’s your source? Don’t see anything online yet.

Jordan July 2, 2012 - 3:47 pm

I’ve received an email from a reasonably official source (MTA Customer Service Dept.) which says that August 13 is the opening date. Only time will tell….

Benjamin Kabak July 2, 2012 - 3:48 pm

I saw that on Subchat, but all Transit could say is that August 13 is not the opening date. They have no further information right now.

Benjamin Kabak June 27, 2012 - 12:49 pm

I too would love to hear from your source. I asked Transit yesterday to confirm, and they said the station is not opening on Monday.

throcko June 27, 2012 - 2:22 pm Reply
Benjamin Kabak June 27, 2012 - 2:25 pm

A premature tweet that I need to retract/update.

mike d. June 26, 2012 - 10:31 pm

Whitehall St-South Ferry on the R has countdown clocks since September 2011.

Frank B. June 26, 2012 - 11:09 pm

This is excellent. I really didn’t think they’d be able to use this technology; I too, thought that Countdown clocks on B Division lines would be the same seen on the Upper West Side on the IND. (Which is not as useful.) Nice work, MTA.

Spendmore Wastemore June 26, 2012 - 11:26 pm

Can’t they just patch into the master location board from
“Pelham 1-2-3”?

Transit Boy June 27, 2012 - 9:21 am

This is LOW LEVEL technology. It reads car numbers and can deduce whether it is an N or an R based upon which of those lines that particular car number is assigned to. It doesn’t understand if the train is running in service or not, if the train set has switched lines, or if it is being sent to a foreign destination, or if there are multiple terminal options, which terminal it is actually going to.
RFID has the same problem, its a dumb system that says THIS IS CAR X, THEREFORE IT MUST BE A Q TRAIN.

John June 27, 2012 - 9:51 am

Yep, but it’s better than nothing.

suarez June 27, 2012 - 2:11 pm

Yes, it is better than nothing

suarez June 27, 2012 - 2:33 pm

But, it is just barely better than nothing. Lets face it, most subway systems throughout the world have had more complex countdown clocks for years. It is very simple technology that does not use much data space. Truth is, this was the only thing that the T.A. could get to work on the notorious boondoggle, the SONET system. This system was supposed to be completed in 2004. It was supposed to carry live streaming video with face recognition technology and Computer based train control. It was also supposed to replace the aging network that is now carrying all of the power control and indications, revenue collection information, police and train radio communication, voice and data communications, etc. Instead it has produced several huge lawsuits, is eight years past its completion date, a billion dollars over budget and, oh yeah, we got countdown clocks. Read more about this subject soon at mtamoneythrownaway.com

suarez June 27, 2012 - 2:34 pm
Railfanwindow.com June 27, 2012 - 4:17 pm

No, I think all of what you said is likely incorrect.

At this point, my guess is that once the OCR recognizes the lead car number, it queries a database of current trains in the system (this database would be manually maintained by the employees at the terminals of each line). When it finds the train with the specified lead car number, the system will now know what line the train is running on and what the train’s destination is and what its schedule is. And if the train is taken out of service at some point along its run, that info could be updated in the database so that the train would not show up on the countdown clocks. This is just my current guess.

Dan June 27, 2012 - 10:12 pm

Certainly possible.

Ben, I did see in today’s Daily News that there was an article on B Division countdown clocks. The reporter quoted an unnamed person at NYC Transit saying that the MTA does want to expedite something on this front because the A Division and L clocks are so popular. The article didn’t specify a specific timeline.

SEAN June 27, 2012 - 10:14 am

On the Queens Boulevard line the anouncement system just indicates if the train is Queens or Manhattan bound& if it is ariving on the local or express track. No indication if it’s an E, F, M or R. In Jackson Heights or Forest Hills it may cause a bit of confusion since the F diverges after JH & the others do not follow the same route towards Manhattan.

mike d. June 27, 2012 - 9:11 pm

It’s a guessing game. Play along with MTA, they are fooling people around.

Dan June 27, 2012 - 10:09 pm

Same thing the CPW and Midtown-8th Avenue corridors have.

Andrew July 2, 2012 - 10:28 pm

That system is based purely on track occupancy, because the signal system by itself only knows when a segment of track is occupied – it doesn’t know the designation of the train that’s occupying it.

This new OCR-based system is an overlay on top of the signal system that can presumably identify the train route. On the A Division, that role is played by the ATS system.

Alon Levy June 27, 2012 - 9:49 pm

Anon June 27, 2012 - 10:53 pm

OT New York City Subway Stairs via Reddit


Leave a Comment