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Report Suggests Need to Fast-Track Replacement of Subway Signal Technology

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The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has spent billions on improving the subway - adding new cars, refurbishing stations and boosting safety measures - but a new report says the agency isn't moving quickly enough to replace antiquated signaling technology. NY1's Jose Martinez filed the following report.

Ah, yes, the signal delay. The scourge of the straphanger. It's a message riders know all too well.

"I hear it often. At least, like, probably like twice a week," said one rider.

"Oh, a signal delay. Fairly often. Every once in a while," said another.

Credit the century-old signaling system that keeps the subway going around the clock.

"It's so antiquated. They are so old," said Richard Barone of the Regional Plan Association. "We're running with essentially 20th-century technology in, obviously, the 21st century, and it's just a critical part of our infrastructure."

A new report from the Regional Plan Association said the MTA needs to fast-track its switch to modern signaling technology that's now in use only on the L line and slated to arrive on the 7 by 2017.

"Right now, at the current rate, we'll have basically 7 percent of the system converted in about 17 years, so there's over 90 percent of the system that we still have to upgrade," Barone said. "So we want to see the benefits sooner, obviously, rather than later."

What are the benefits for riders?

"It allows you to run more trains, more frequently, closer together," said MTA spokesperson Adam Lisberg.

It won't come cheap, though. The planning group's report estimates that full implementation will cost close to $20 billion.

The MTA said it's a big part of its current and future investments.

At an estimated $25- to $30 billion, the MTA's next capital plan has been described by its chairman as "unsexy," but it's going to be focused on essential work, such as modernizing the signaling system.

"It's complicated, it's expensive, and every time you have to shut a track down in order to install this equipment, it takes a long time to do it," Lisberg said.

For a 100-year-old subway system, riders say it gets around nicely.

"I think that it's remarkable that it's 100 years old and it still runs," said one rider. "It's pretty consistent. Trains run pretty much on time. I can't really complain."

Then just wait until that next signal delay.

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