The MTA says it is sticking to its plan to launch a computerized signal system along the No. 7 line this year, despite challenges that could further delay the project and reports stating otherwise.
The New York Times on Monday reported that the project to modernize the Flushing line’s ancient signal system was expected to be completed “early next year,” a contention MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz disputed in an email.
“We are still targeting the end of 2017 for completion,” Ortiz said.
The 7 train project to install technology known as Communications-Based Train Control, or CBTC, was already delayed three years in starting and faces cost overruns. The MTA first budgeted $265.6 million for the project that now costs more than $405 million, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office.
Hardware for the new system is already installed along the line. Its radio towers, beacons and cables are set to replace a signal system that predates World War II — but the MTA has had problems with software during testing.
“We ran into a car-born communication issue between the cars, so we’re trying to mitigate that,” said Robert Gomez, program officer at the MTA’s Department of Capital Program Management, at a MTA committee meeting last month. “One unit has to communicate to the rear unit and there’s some messaging that gets lost. So the train tends to run into error messages.”
Replacing the MTA’s signal system has been viewed as a key way to improve failing subway infrastructure taxed by increased ridership over the years. Overcrowding accounted for roughly 44.8 percent of subway delays recorded in May, according to the MTA’s most recent data.
CBTC is expected to help alleviate the issue by allowing the MTA to run trains closer together, thereby increasing the number of trains that can run each day. Since the technology was fully integrated on the L line in 2009, the agency has increased the run from 12 to 15 per hour to 20.
MTA officials have estimated that it could take 50 years to expand CBTC to its network of 24 subway lines. That prospect has MTA chairman Joe Lhota and managing director Veronique “Ronnie” Hakim exploring other paths to signal modernization.
At a City Council hearing earlier this month, Hakim said the agency should look to “emerging technologies” that could make signal modernization cheaper and faster. She believes a better idea could come from MTA’s Genius Challenge, which is offering millions in awards for new ways to improve subway service.
“Necessarily replacing the entirety of the New York City transit subway system with what we know today of Communications-Based Train Control, that may not be the right thing to do,” Hakim said.