At the start of the Friday evening rush hour last week, about a third of the New York City subway system–the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and Times Square shuttle lines–ground to a halt, leaving commuters stranded–some for as long as 90 minutes–in the sweltering heat. AM New York reports that the cause of the breakdown was a computer glitch the MTA has been fighting for months.
The numbered lines–the 7 is an exception–follow signals and switches controlled by what’s known as Automatic Train Supervision or ATS. When that system goes down as it did on Friday, crews at Manhattan’s Rail Control Center can’t locate trains within the system. There’s a backup, but apparently that failed as well.
According to New York City Transit president Andy Byford, “We did not know exactly where our trains were, so for safety reasons we had to instruct all trains to stop where they were, to maintain their positions, while we ascertained what exactly was going on.”
It turns out, the problem isn’t a new one. Thirteen separate incidents of a similar nature have delayed hundreds of trains since mid-June according to internal reports. Though the MTA says ATS is more modern and efficient at pinpointing subway car locations than the signal control system used on lettered lines, issues have have plagued it in recent months causing minor delays and–as with Friday’s sticky rush hour snafu–longer inconveniences. Byford says the MTA is looking at a similar interruption of the system that happened on March 21 and 22, looking for links that might help identify the exact cause of the problem.
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