Why Does Subway Construction Cost So Much In NY City?


Rdership increases, delays increase and the 22 subway lines led by the MTA don’t seemm to know what to do.

Governor Cuomo and the MTA Board released an updated version of the authority’s five-year capital plan. The plan allocates $14.5 billion toward the subways, which includes ample funding for expansion projects—like a cool $1.735 billion towards the full-length extension of the Second Avenue Subway.

Cuomo is concentrating on the “showy” opening on new lines and new stations. But what about outdated, archaic signaling system? It does not make for media events with parties, etc.

The cost per kilometer in New York is the highest in the World.

New Yorkers may not be getting an updated signaling system in the subway any time soon—that could take up to 50 years and cost $20 billion. If you’re wondering where that money is going, look no further than projects like the Second Avenue Subway.

All divisions of the New York City subway use what is now called “wayside color-light block signalling”, that is, signals are physically located to the side of the track (as opposed to being overhead, or transmitted directly to the train), utilize the colors of lights (as opposed to semaphores or other devices, or positions or shapes of lights), and rely on dividing tracks into discrete blocks (or track sections or track circuits) to electrically detect the presence of trains. Nearly all of the routes of the current subway are signalled with classic wayside block signalling, whose principles have not changed markedly since the opening of the IRT in 1904. (In-cab signalling and recent position- and radio-based technologies are slowly being deployed on some lines; the first to be cut over is the “L”, chosen because it shares no trackage with other routes, and has a relatively simple service pattern, i.e. no express service.)

At a subway station deep under Manhattan, a dingy room is filled with rows of antique equipment built before World War II. The weathered glass boxes and cloth-covered cables are not part of a museum exhibit, however — they are crucial pieces of the signal system that directs traffic in one of the busiest subways in the world.

Much of the signal equipment at that station, at West Fourth Street, is decades beyond its life span, and it is one of the main culprits plaguing the overburdened subway.

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