- Signal room fire cripples two NYC Transit lines
Well over a half-million people who ride MTA New York City Transit's A and C lines are being affected by severely curtailed service resulting from a signal room fire that occurred Jan. 23.
The fire at Chambers Street in lower Manhattan, started by a homeless person trying to keep warm, spread to the locked signal room. It destroyed roughly 600 relays and related circuitry that control the A and C lines. NYCT says that, for the foreseeable future, A trains are running on 18-minute headways instead of the normal six minutes. The C train has been taken out of service, replaced by the V train, but only in Brooklyn.
The affected relay-based equipment, which controls a fixed-block signal system using single-rail track circuits and electro-pneumatic trip stops, is custom-built for NYC Transit. Its design dates back to 1932, when the A and C lines opened as part of the IND (Independent) subway. There are dozens more signal rooms like it throughout NYC Transit's 722-mile network. The agency says it may take up to five years and millions of dollars to reassemble and test the equipment.
There are only two signal suppliers in the world that provide replacement components for this antiquated yet reliable technology. Both are original suppliers to the New York subway system, which opened in October 1904: Pittsburgh-based Union Switch & Signal, and Rochester, N.Y.-based Alstom Signaling-originally General Railway Signal.
NYC Transit is getting ready to roll out its first installation of CBTC (communications-based train control) on the L (Canarsie) line later this year. The Canarsie pilot, the technology for which is provided by Siemens and US&S, is the first phase of a multi-year CBTC program. CBTC is not expected to fully replace NYCT's traditional-and obviously vulnerable and difficult to repair-relay-based track circuit equipment for another 30 to 40 years.