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Modern Signaling, Comms Tech Meets NYC's Aging Subway System

Four companies were selected by the Transit Tech Lab in New York City to deploy and test train signaling and communications technologies as the Metropolitan Transit Authority continues efforts to modernize its infrastructure.

New York Transit Train
New communication technologies, artificial intelligence and remote sensing are all being explored by New York City's Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), as the agency moves forward with new train signaling advancements.

Four companies have been selected to deploy their next-gen technologies on one of the oldest and busiest subway networks in the country as part of the Signaling Challenge by the Transit Tech Lab.

Luminar will use long-range light detection and ranging (lidar) technology, coupled with perception software created by Seoul Robotics, to better position trains underground and detect objects on tracks.

Ouster, another company selected to test its technology in New York City, will also use lidar to “create a high-resolution 3D map of the subway tunnels, including the railway infrastructure,” said Heather Shapiro, director of communications at Ouster. Ouster will partner with Lux Modus, a lidar mapping technology company. The partnership will process the data to detect structural damage, foreign objects on the tracks and infrastructure degradation.

“By leveraging digital lidar, the human and operational risk associated with current rail inspection techniques could be greatly reduced,” said Shapiro, adding the technology helps to reduce maintenance caused downtimes, and improves worker safety, while providing a comprehensive visual and digital record of the track condition.

The technology is used by the automotive, robotics, industrial and smart infrastructure industries.

“Specifically, within smart infrastructure, our lidar is across dozens of intelligent transportation systems in the U.S. and around the world for traffic monitoring and analytics to improve signaling and roadway safety,” said Shapiro.

In some of the busiest parts of the New York City subway system signaling infrastructure dates back decades to the 1930s. Transit officials assure the technology works, but it is aging and is out of touch with modern signaling systems. The equipment is no longer supported by the railroad industry, say MTA officials.

Alstom, also selected as part of the Signaling Challenge, will deploy its communications technology to improve communication between trains as they move through the track system, generally allowing more trains to travel within the network.

4AI Systems will use artificial intelligence to detect objects on the track and equipment in need of repair.

The companies began their testing in January 2022, and will offer proof-of-concept results at the end of the summer.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.


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