MTA playing catch-up on modernizing NYC subway signals after pandemic sparked delays

Clayton Guse, New York Daily News
·2 min read

The MTA is playing catch-up on more than $2 billion worth of construction slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic that will upgrade the subway’s aging signal systems.

Technology called communications-based train control, or CBTC, is believed by transit officials to be a silver bullet for many of the subway’s problems. The technology uses computers to drive trains, allowing them to operate closer together and at faster speeds.

Only the subway’s No. 7 and L lines are equipped with the tech. The rest of the subway relies on aging systems, some of which date back to the 1930s.

The MTA was previously scheduled to launch CBTC tech on the Queens Boulevard line, which serves the E, F, M and R lines, by March, but the pandemic has pushed back the completion date to the final quarter of the year. The estimated cost of the project has also increased by $68 million to $725 million, MTA data show.

“We had a choice of whether we would in effect create some extra mega outages to pull the schedule back,” said MTA Chief Development Officer Janno Lieber. “A decision was made with NYC Transit that we shouldn’t do a lot of extra outages, that we don’t want people returning to this key high-volume line to face too many disruptions.”

Lieber’s team took over signaling work in September as part of an agency reorganization. The effort to modernize the subway’s signals was previously overseen by NYC Transit executive Pete Tomlin, who resigned from the agency in 2020 a day after former NYC Transit president Andy Byford stepped down.

Pandemic quarantine guidelines and MTA restructuring are two reasons why the work is running late — but the outbreak’s impact on global supply chains has also affected the installation, MTA officials said.

New signal technology is scheduled to go live on the F line between W. 8th St. and Church Ave. in March 2023, seven months later than the MTA’s previous deadline of August 2022.

The contractor performing the work on the line, Tutor Perini, was not able to buy cable needed for the system. The MTA brokered a deal between the company and another agency contractor, L.K. Comstock, which had extra cabling from another subway signal project in Manhattan, officials said.

The schedule and budget for that project, which will modernize the signaling system along Eighth Ave., has not yet been affected by the pandemic, officials said. It’s expected to be completed in January 2025 for $735 million.