2 Jan 2016

A look at the gorgeous, antiquated technology running the NYC Subway

They may look like museum exhibits, or props in a World War II-era film - but these clunking, dusty devices are in fact all that keeps the New York subway system from falling in chaos.
Metal levers, tiny blinking bulbs and even old-fashioned paperwork are what controls the cars, hurtling under and over the five boroughs at speeds up to fifty miles per hour.
Indeed, the antiquated devices - some pushing 100 years old - which keep the subway running are so inaccurate that operators admit they don't even know exactly where the trains are.

The stark picture of a system still creaking by with archaic infrastructure came in a video released by the Metropolitan Transit Authority this month, showing how they are trying to upgrade their outmoded systems.
In the nine-minute clip, Wynton Habersham, an MTA official, admits: 'What riders don't realize, though, is that in our system it's not just the architecture that is 100 years old - it's a lot of the basic technology as well'.
The limitation of using pre-war technology means that operators only have a vague idea of where a train is and how fast its going - leading to delays and gaps in service because of all the extra precautions that must be taken.

Walking through the control tower at the busy West 4th Street subway station - Habersham reveals that it relies on mechanical equipment upwards of 80 years old.
Showing off a machine full of old valves and cables, Habersham admits that it dates from the 1930s - and some of the parts can be seen sporting stickers showing that they were last replaced in 1952.
Although he stresses that the obsolete parts are 'safe and reliable', he said that the train tracking programs, which can only locate trains within around a 1,000ft radius, are making journeys slower than they have to be.
Describing the current 'fixed-block' way of running the tracks, he says: 'It's a very safe system, but there are many limitations.


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