In-tunnel cell service and new train signaling could spread in New York

It’s one of the largest metro systems in the world and yet, it has been systematically underfunded for decades. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been struggling to keep schedules and bring amenities to straphangers’ experiences. For example, it recently decided to employ fare payment infrastructure that accepts NFC-based mobile payment systems.

The authority also has implemented iPhone 6s devices on 8th Avenue trains for better communications from the control center — admittedly a stop-gap for real change in human-switched signaling systems that are preventing trains from operating faster and more freuqently.

Enter a new pilot program for Ultra-Wideband radio transceivers. Two beacons have been placed on the Culver Local tracks in Brooklyn — serving part of the F and G lines — at Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street station and Church Avenue station.

Part of the benefit of this new technology, which operates above the 500MHz threshold, is that this could bring internet access to the tunnels — currently, only all of the stations have guaranteed access to cellular networks as well as public Wi-Fi. Several other underground systems, including Boston’s, already have in-tunnel cell service.

“Our experiment with Ultra-Wideband, if successful, will allow the MTA to skip 20th century technology with a 21st century solution,” MTA Chairman Joe Lhota told The New York Daily News. “I’m highly optimistic about the possibilities.”

Current signal system replacement projects have been slow and very costly to process — only the L line uses radio signaling. The 7 line was supposed to have computerized signaling by the end of the year, but the goal is now set for June.

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Jules Wang
Jules Wang is News Editor for Pocketnow and one of the hosts of the Pocketnow Weekly Podcast. He came onto the team in 2014 as an intern editing and producing videos and the podcast while he was studying journalism at Emerson College. He graduated the year after and entered into his current position at Pocketnow, full-time.