A new technology designed to help one of NYC’s most crowded subway lines went live for less than an hour before something broke — and commuters were furious

  • New York is in the process of updating its subway signals to a modern, “communications-based” system.
  • After plenty of delays, the 7 train is the second of 27 lines to get the technology.
  • A circuit failure less than an hour after the agency said the system had been switched for the entire line on had commuters furious.

At long last, modern signalling went live on a line of New York City’s subway that desperately needs any relief it can get.

Communications-based train control, or CBTC for short, has been in the works on the 7 train from Manhattan to Flushing, Queens for nearly seven years. After a myriad of delays, the $US810 million system was finally switched on for the entirety of the line on Tuesday.

But less than an hour later, commuters once again heard a common refrain: 7 trains are running with delays.

In a statement, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority – a state agency responsible for the subway – heralded the activation as a “milestone” but said the “track circuit failure” that caused delays was not necessarily the culprit.

“Over the next few weeks we’ll be working with the vendor to optimise the system and doing other signal work on the line to complete the transition,” it said. “Customers will soon enjoy the enhanced reliability and, eventually, increased train frequencies that CBTC allows, as currently seen on the L line.”

Read more:
Here’s the century-old technology delaying the New York City subway every day

But commuters, who have faced weekend after weekend of service changes due to the upgrades, were having trouble feeling the same optimism for the future service improvements.

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Shirley Limongi said her commute took double the usual 45 minutes, and that cops had stopped allowing passengers onto the platform at Grand Central due to overcrowding.

“Your timing is hilarious,” another quipped. “Everyone stuck queens bound 30 minutes later.”

“Modern as in sitting in the car at the station for 15 minutes?”Eric Devitto asked. “I could have walked to work faster.”

And by the Tuesday rush hour, there were more delays plaguing the line.

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CBTC works by allowing trains to digitally communicate with each other in real-time, and have signals along track respond in real time. (Previously, much signalling and switching was done by hand.)

This means higher speeds and smaller gaps between trains. Under the old system, known as fixed-block signalling, a specific length of track would remain “red” after a train passes through. It’s completely fail-safe, but prone to signal malfunctions thanks the century-old equipment, which can trip even when a train has not passed through.

Here’s how the two compare:

MTA new york city subway CBTC video

At the current rate of upgrades, the New York Times estimates the MTA could spend $US20 billion over 50 years to upgrade the remaining 25 lines.