MTA to install subway countdown clocks on all lettered lines

The MTA will install countdown clocks on all lettered line stations by the spring of 2018, according to board materials published ahead of Wednesday’s board meeting.

The rollout will build off a 90-day pilot launched this summer along certain stops of Broadway’s N, Q and R lines that used Bluetooth technology to track trains through their stations.

“It’s great news for riders,” said Andrew Albert, an MTA board member. “By all accounts I’ve heard, people are really enjoying it in Broadway BMT.”

More than 140 stations from the A division, or numbered lines, are outfitted with countdown clocks. That’s thanks to the division’s Automated Train Supervision (ATS), a digital computing system that allows for the MTA to track the exact location of its trains.

Along the L train, part of the B division, the MTA uses a similar technology called Communication Based Train Control, to provide information for its countdown clocks.

At all other lettered lines, the MTA is in the process of installing similar technology, but won’t finish that work until at least 2021. The new Bluetooth train tracking method is expected to speed up the installation of countdown clocks by several years.

“This is a technology that allows the MTA to put in real time train arrival information a lot quicker than traditional methods,” Albert said.

For the pilot, four Bluetooth receivers were placed in each station — two at each end of the platform. Four beacons were placed in the front and backs of each train. As trains enter and leave a station, the system uses their arrival and departure times to estimate the time at which the train will reach the next stop.

Replicating that set up, along with the installation of Wi-Fi and LCD information screens, at all 271 lettered stations could cost between $31.7 million and $47.7 million, depending on ongoing negotiations between the MTA and its contractor, Transit Wireless. Annual operations could cost $5.2 million.

“Gov. Cuomo has pushed the MTA to speed up installation on all lettered lines to help provide riders with the vital information they need to plan their commute,” said MTA spokesperson Beth DeFalco.

“Our initial tests were overwhelmingly successful and pending full board approval, the MTA will extend our agreement to fast-track the installation of the clocks in all 271 lettered-line stations.”

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