The MTA will begin testing a futuristic technology on the L line that could lead to a major uptick in service, the Daily News has learned.
A memo sent out to train operators Thursday shows that “ultra-wideband” signaling equipment has been installed along the busy subway line, and Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials are ready to give it a trail run.
If the tests are successful, the technology could eventually be used to allow trains to run closer together and at higher speeds, said NYC Transit President Andy Byford.
Transit officials have been trialing the technology on a test track in Brooklyn for nearly two years. Byford said his team has for months planned to trial the equipment on the L train, which is running with drastically reduced service on nights and weekends while crews repair the line’s East River tunnel that was damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
Ultra-wideband, or UWB, is considered by some transit experts to be a complement to communication-based train control, an automated system that currently manages train service on the L line.
Gov. Cuomo in April said communications-based train control was “designed in the ’80s,” and urged transit officials to take a harder look at UWB.
The new tech won’t actually direct trains during the tests — it will run on “shadow mode” so that MTA experts can collect data and see how it works without running the risk of disrupting service.
“It’s important to note that, A, it’s not a fully-fledged signaling system and, B, it is not yet safety certified,” Byford said of the technology, adding that he is “very excited about it.”
Byford said the test period will last for several months, allowing his team to determine how viable it is. The agency is running a similar UWB test on the No. 7 line, which is the only other section of the subway currently equipped with communications-based train control.
MTA officials are currently capable of running 20 trains per hour on the L line. The signal system would allow them to run 22 trains per hour, but there is not enough electrical capacity on the line to hit that target.
By the time the L train construction wraps up next summer, the MTA will have more substations and more electrical capacity on the L line, allowing for quicker run times. If the UWB technology works and is rolled out, service could be even better, Byford said.
Six more sections of subway track are slated to get modern signaling equipment over the next five years as a part of the MTA’s proposed $51.5 billion capital plan.
The MTA is currently giving two different companies a chance to test out their UWB technology on the subway. San Diego-based Piper Networks is testing their tech on the No. 7 line, while Massachusetts-based Humantics is getting a shot at the L line.
The only other companies to implement modern signal equipment on the subway are Siemens, a German conglomerate, and French technology vendor Thales.