New York City’s subways have long run on a fixed-block signaling system.
MTA/Patrick Cashin

New York City’s subways have long run on a fixed-block signaling system.

MTA/Patrick Cashin

The New York MTA and its public-private initiative, the Transit Innovation Partnership, announced a new collaborative effort exploring signal modernization that will include co-hosting a bidding conference to solicit technological innovations and proposals for reimagining the MTA’s signal systems.

New York City’s subways have long run on a fixed-block signaling system. Though still able to move millions, the aging infrastructure frequently poses challenges and requires near-constant maintenance work. Modern signaling like communications-based train control (CBTC) allows trains to interact with one another seamlessly. This allows the system to run more trains with less space between them. Where CBTC is present, on-time performance rises dramatically. The signaling conference will allow the MTA to tap into innovators who may leapfrog to an entirely new approach to re-signaling the subway system.

The MTA also announced the creation of the University Partnership for Adaptive Technologies & Mass Transit Innovation. Under this partnership, Cornell Tech, New York University and Columbia University will create a joint working group that will coordinate with the MTA — particularly the new Research, Development and Innovation Office — as well as the Transit Innovation Partnership, to leverage the intellectual capital of faculty and students to identify ways to leapfrog current solutions to the MTA’s challenges and to help ensure capital plan projects are done as efficiently as possible.

The working group will explore the development and adaptation of new technologies to see how they can be applied to existing mass transit technologies, and, within the first year, develop a detailed operating plan and budget to accomplish specific goals including leveraging faculty and student expertise of the partnering institutions.

The MTA aims to grow relationships with tech partners that may prove helpful in identifying new or outside-the-box solutions to better deliver projects announced earlier this month in the agency’s historic $51.5 billion 2020-2024 Capital Plan. Today’s conference covered signaling, accessibility, fare evasion and cyber issues.

The proposed capital program will modernize the subways by adding capacity, increasing reliability, and accelerating accessibility. The program includes full funding for Phase 2 of the Second Avenue Subway from a mixture of federal and local sources. Systemwide priority initiatives funded by the plan include signal modernization, new subway cars, station accessibility, station improvements, and track replacement. $7.1 billion of the Capital Plan will go toward signal modernization along six subway lines, including the Lexington Avenue Line serving more than 50% of riders.

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