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MTA announces 8 winners for its ‘genius’ transit challenge

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But there’s no timetable for how soon their ideas could be implemented

New York City's Aging Subway System Fraught With Delays And Growing Rider Frustration Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Robotic communications systems, wireless signals, and modular subway cars: could these be the future of the New York City subway? The MTA seems to think so; those are just some of the winning proposals in the agency’s Genius Challenge, which called on transit experts to submit proposals for improving the crumbling subway system.

Finalists were named at the end of December, and today, the MTA announced the challenge’s eight winners, who will split $2.5 million among them. They submitted proposals in three different categories: modernizing the signal system, updating subway cars, and improving communications in the transit system.

Here’s how the winners break down:

  • In the first category, there are two winning proposals: Metronom Rail and Robert James’s idea for ultra-wideband (UWB) wireless technology; and the use of onboard sensors and cameras for train positioning, which was proposed separately by Ansaldo STS and Thales Group.
  • In the second category, three proposals were selected: CRRC proposed a new subway car prototype that would use “lighter materials, modular design,” with $50 million of its own money; a new software platform, proposed by CSinTrans, that would make it easier to know when repairs and maintenance crews are needed; and Craig Avedisian (who the MTA notes is “a lawyer by day and a transit enthusiast at all other hours”), who proposed longer train cars and new boarding procedures (i.e., not having every car available for passengers to enter and exit at a station).
  • And finally, in the third category, there was one winner: Bechtel Innovation, which proposed a “semi-automatic robotic system” to improve communications in subway tunnels.

Now that the winners have been announced, their proposals “will be thoroughly vetted and further developed as quickly as possible,” according to the MTA, though a specific timeline for implementation (which is subject to board approval) has not been announced. (The MTA’s chief development officer, Janno Lieber, was vague in a statement, saying that these fixes could be implemented “much faster than the previous 40-plus year timetable.”)

Still, there were some proposals that should have made the cut.…

You can also check out videos of the winning presentations below: