It's no secret that the MTA has been having some difficulty maintaining its century-old infrastructure—track fires, signal problems, and all-around calamity plague morning, evening, and off-hour commutes on a regular basis. And in a video released this week, the agency shows off just how horrifically ancient the machinery that runs one of the world's largest subway systems—most of the machines date back to the 1930s or before, and upgrades have been few and far between. See below:
Indeed, as Wynton Habersham, Vice President and Chief Officer of the Service Delivery for the Department of Subways, illustrates above, basic technology dates way, way back. An interlocking machine and indication panel at the West 4th Street control tower was installed in the 1930s. Electromechanical relays are even older than that—Habersham points out an upgrade from 1952.
This shit is OLD, like grizzled dude who won't stop stabbing at the back of your plane seat because he can't figure out the TV touchscreen old. It's a miracle the F train even runs at all. And the whole system is just poised for disaster—"If there's a small fire, there's a risk of us losing this entire interlocking machine," Habersham says of the artifact responsible for keeping trains from crashing into one another at high speeds. Super!
To solve all this, the MTA's spent the last decade working on implementing Communications Based Train Control" [CBTC] systems on subway lines—CBTC systems, as opposed to fixed-block signaling, put computers in charge of running the cars, making it easier for the MTA to know how fast the trains are going and exactly where they're located, and allowing the agency to increase the number of trains on the line.
The L train got the full robot treatment in 2009 and they're working on installing it on the 7 train by 2017, hence all the long shutdowns plaguing the line over the past few years. Up next—the EFMR line. Hopefully this means conductors won't be able to kidnap riders anymore, though it's hard to know what the robots will do once they realize they're stronger than humans.