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MTA experiments with new tech to speed up signal repairs

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If the tech proves successful, the subway’s aging signal stock could be modernized in under a decade

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Since the end of last year, the MTA has been exploring a new technology to overcome its signal problems on the subway, but the tests have some transit advocates worried about the effectiveness of this tech, the New York Times reports.

The specific tech now being studied was one of the winning proposals selected in the MTA’s Genius Challenge. It’s called ultra-wideband radio, and uses a wireless radio system to transmit data. The winning proposal, by Metrom Rail, proposes placing devices called nodes that would sit 1,000 feet apartment in subway tunnels and then would relay information from one node to the next, according to the Times.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and some MTA officials argue that the technology could modernize the subway’s aging signal system in just under a decade, instead of a more traditional approach that would take far longer.

The biggest hitch however, some transit advocates argue, is that the technology hasn’t been tested on a large-scale in any transit system across the world.

“New York doesn’t need to be the guinea pig for new technologies,” Richard Barone, a vice president at the Regional Plan Association, told the Times.

Still, the MTA is moving forward with its plan to test out the technology. At present its been setup on the route for the shuttle between Grand Central and Times square, and on a test track in Brooklyn. The technology is also being tested out in Boston, and the MTA’s chairman, Joe Lhota told the Times that the military has been using this technology for years, and that the tests in NYC so far have shown the system can detect the exact location of trains with great precision.

Andy Byford, the president of the New York City Transit Authority, told the Times that he was interested in seeing where the new technology goes, but that he also wanted to move forward with the existing plan to upgrade signals on some of the system’s most crowded lines. Only the L train has a modernized signal system in the city—C.T.B.C., as the system is known—and work is underway on getting it installed on the 7 line right now.