The challenge of rethinking how trains on Metropolitan Transportation Authority subway lines are signaled is being put out to the private sector. Agency officials acknowledge there are myriad challenges to overcome.
(TNS) — The MTA has opened the door for private vendors to grab a piece of the $7 billion it plans to spend on upgrades to the subway’s outdated train signaling systems.
The agency Tuesday held a “Signaling Innovation Summit,” which brought together more than 80 companies to pitch their best ideas to speed up subway service.
The companies can apply to a new “Signaling Challenge," and the winners will demonstrate their fancy tech to Metropolitan Transportation Officials at another event in March.
“We want to collaborate with you. We want to work together,” Mark Dowd, the MTA’s recently hired chief innovation officer, told the room of eager business folks. “That sounds intimidating because working with the MTA, or any large government agency, to co-create can be difficult.”
The MTA especially seeks a solution from the companies that allows the agency to quickly and cheaply retrofit old subway cars with equipment that runs a modern signaling system called communications-based train control, said Rachel Haot, executive director of the Transit Innovation Partnership, a public-private group.
“Right now, depending on the framework you’re looking at, it could be seen as less expensive to purchase new cars than to equip the existing ones,” said Haot. “We’re asking this community to help us come up with a more effective strategy for doing this.”
The task Haot describes won’t be easy.
The bulk of the cars she references are R142s, which are 20 years old and run primarily on the 4 and 5 lines. The MTA plans to overhaul the signals on the busiest parts of those lines in the next five years.
“When you retrofit a train there are a lot of new subsystems you have to put in and a lot of dismantling,” said MTA spokeswoman Abbey Collins.
The MTA has already inked a contract with signal company Thales to equip a batch of its newest subway cars with modern signal technology while they are being assembled.
The agency is unable to add modern signal technology on roughly 40% of its current subway cars. Those clunkers are all more than 30 years old and run on direct current electricity that prevents them from using cutting edge technology.
Haot and MTA officials also want the private vendors to look into a form of radio technology called ultra-wideband that some experts think can help further improve the subway’s signaling system.
The MTA is already required to take a hard look at ultra-wideband, thanks to an amendment to the state’s Public Authorities Law passed in April.
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