2006_08_nasamission.jpgThe Post gets to see the MTA's new "Rail Control Center", which is where all subway trains can be monitored starting in 2010. It's somewhere, on the West Side and is likened to NASA's mission control.

Transit officials are highly secretive about the center - which would be the largest and most advanced rail-control system in the world - because it could be a terror target, sources said.

The subway has always depended on its three rails - two to guide the path of the train, and the third to deliver the 600 volts necessary to power the trains.

But the subway of the future will depend on an imaginary fourth rail - a data line - to provide the rail-control center with live information.

As a bonus, it will tell straphangers when the next train will arrive. At the old subway-control center in Brooklyn, there was no way to identify trains or tell their precise location.

And it allowed only one train at a time onto 600-foot blocks of track, giving dispatchers just a vague idea of each tran's location and preventing trains from being run closer together. Right now, the new center is running much the way the Brooklyn one did, while its more advanced functions are being tested.

The subway's number lines are set to go online this fall. The letter lines will take longer to complete, officials said.

It sounds very cool - real-time monitoring, giving dispatchers the ability to communicate with conducors and operators - but it also makes you wonder why the subway system is only getting it in four years - though the fact that the system is over a hundred years old probably has something to do with it. However, transit workers are concerned since many jobs will be eliminated when the control center is up and running.

Speaking of transit workers and their jobs, an arbitrator is still working on the the Transport Workers Union and MTA contract - after six days, no progress (though the teachers union was without a contract for years).