What to Know
The MTA is looking to use Ultra-Wideband radio frequencies to speed up its overhaul of the subway's signal system
The signal system -- a sort of traffic light system for trains -- is decades old and outdated, leading to longer commutes for riders
Using Ultra-Wideband radio frequencies would also bring cell service to underground tunnels on some lines
The MTA has quietly begun testing a high-tech way to shave years off its time-frame for fixing the subway system’s failing signals, transportation officials tell NBC 4 New York.
The agency is testing Ultra-Wideband radio frequencies, which allow trains to safely run closer together. Trains are currently spaced far apart for safety reasons, but experts say modernizing subway signals could cut the distance between trains in half and speed up commute times for riders.
The transportation officials told NBC 4 that the current Ultra-Wideband radio testing is still in an “experimental” stage, but they said top executives are “optimistic.”
The technology is similar to what’s currently used on the fully computerized L line.
Ultra-Wideband radio frequencies help connect cellular service, and if the testing currently underway in Brooklyn gets wider approval, it could allow riders to use their cell phones in tunnels between stations on some lines, the officials said.
The subway’s signal system has long been in need of an upgrade. The traffic-light signals you see in subway stations while waiting for trains has been failing at an alarming rate. Built in the 1930s, most of the signals and switches are still manually controlled.
The signal system was blamed for numerous delays and other issues for riders this year alone. A recent report by the state’s comptroller says the MTA still needs billions of dollars to fix and upgrade the signals.
An outline for the subway system released by the influential Regional Plan Association this fall said there needed to be greater urgency in upgrading the signal system and that “the pace at which the MTA adopts technological innovations is glacial.”