VIDEO: Go Behind the Super Antiquated Switchboard of Today’s NYC Subway

July 27, 2015

The MTA is showing its age in a new video put forth by the public benefit corporation. “People know the system is old,” the narrator of MTA’s video opens, “but I don’t think they realize just how old it is.” The New York City subway system has been running since 1904, and as we previously reported in December, it’s been running on the same technology used in the 1930s.

In the video, computers are noticeably absent from the West 4th Street Supervisory Tower, which is in control of all of the train movements around the area. Instead there are plenty of pens and papers, as well as old, lever-operated machinery that the railroad industry has long stopped manufacturing. It’s no wonder that the MTA has put out this video promoting their Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) system, a project that aims to modernize the subway.

The CBTC will replace the MTA’s current system of Fixed Block Signaling. The system is so outdated that the video’s narrator, the Vice President and Chief Officer of Service Delivery admits, “We never really know where the train is and we are limited in our ability to control the speed of the train, which means we can’t safely operate them more closely together, so we can’t increase the number of trains when ridership warrants it.” In other words, the MTA wants to provide faster service; however, it can’t, on account of safety.

MTA new system, MTA old system, Communication-Based Train Control, Fixed-Block Signaling

The new CBTC system will allow MTA workers to put their notepads away and the subway’s infrastructure will supposedly be simpler and easier to maintain.

Don’t expect this to be a quick fix, however. The MTA has only put CBTC in place on the Canarsie line so far. It is currently working on converting the Flushing line, but it won’t be ready for service until 2017. At this rate, it will take decades for the MTA to have the whole system running under CBTC. In the meantime, straphangers are stuck with an outdated system. While the MTA video does emphasize the system’s age, the video also emphasizes the system’s reliability. “It works,” the narrator says, “but it’s an antiquated way to run a subway.”


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  1. C

    Thank You, Wynton Habersham, never heard of you before, but you give me great confidence that our vintage subway system is safe and is being properly upgraded. What a massive engineering problem you have inherited !! I am a retired electrical engineer, but if I were younger, I’d come and work for you. You have such pride in your voice. New York City technical infrastructure is a mess, but YOU give me hope.. GOOD Work !