NYC morning rush still plagued by MTA’s archaic, faulty signal system

Signal malfunctions caused subway delays on four out of every five mornings in the first half of 2021, according to a new report.

The review of public service alerts found the number of mornings where faulty signals snarled trains jumped to 88 percent in the second quarter of the year — nearly as high as the 92 percent of mornings impacted in 2018.

Upgrading century-old subway signals is a key facet of the MTA’s $51.5 billion capital plan, which is set to be funded in part by a congestion charge on Manhattan drivers.

“The governor’s multibillion MTA capital program includes needed upgrades but itself needs more funding,” said Danny Pearlstein of Riders Alliance, who conducted the analysis.

“Congestion pricing is urgently essential to fixing the subway and, to end the MTA’s fiscal crisis, New York needs more federal aid,” Pearlstein said.

People use the New York City subway on June 3, 2021.
Subways were delayed four out of every five mornings in the first half of 2021 due to signal malfunctions, a new report found.
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There have been more than 17 weekdays per month with signal-related delays in 2021, according to the analysis.

In June, the worst lines for signal-related delays were the E train, with 11 days of snarled trains, followed by the F and R trains with nine apiece. The F train is currently being enabled with modern signal tech known as “Communications Based Train Control.”

Signal problems drove much of the 2017 subway service failures that led to the hiring of since-ousted transit boss Andy Byford. The “Subway Action Plan” launched by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that year added 123 new union jobs to the agency’s signals division.

People with umbrellas enter and exit a subway station in Union Square on May 28, 2021 in New York City.
Upgrading 100-year-old subway signals is a key facet of the MTA’s $51.5 billion capital plan.
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MTA officials criticized Riders Alliance’s analysis for giving the same weight to “widespread problems” and “momentary issue.”

“We are making a multi-billion dollar investment in modernizing signals across the subway system that will result in faster trips, the ability to operate more trains per hour and fewer delays,” MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said in a statement.

“As with any new technology, the integration of CBTC with existing conventional signaling, has growing pains and while ensuring safety, this ongoing transition is responsible for an increasing number of signal delays.”


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