Tech by VICE

It's Insane that New York's Subway Still Runs on This 80-Year-Old Switchboard

The city is finally replacing the infrastructure, which dates back to the 1930s.

by Rachel Pick
Jul 30 2015, 3:33pm

It seems that at last, the New York City subway system is getting a major upgrade.

In this video, produced by the city's Metropolitan Transportation Authority to promote their forthcoming new control system, viewers get a behind-the-scenes look at the West 4th St. control tower and some of the truly ancient technology within. Even a longtime resident of New York City, inured to the frequent train delays and crowded platforms, might be surprised to learn that the city uses a control system dating back to the 1930s.

But after decades of planning, the MTA is finally switching over from its fixed-block signaling system to Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC), which should allow trains to run more frequently via a precise method of pinpointing their location. The new system is also safer, simpler, and more energy-efficient.

I know New Yorkers have been waiting for the bad news, so here it is: so far, CBTC has only been installed on the Canarsie Line (the L train). The Flushing Line (7) is up next, but won't be ready to go until 2017. That's the hardest part of subway renovations in the city that never sleeps: any real work necessitates a complete shutdown. Just the L project took seven years to complete, and cost a billion dollars.

Andrew Lubrano, resident engineer on the Flushing Line project, asks New Yorkers to be patient. We'll try, but it's not exactly a virtue we're known for.