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New York Computerizes its Subway System 492

Posted by timothy
from the do-the-f-line-next dept.
Iphtashu Fitz writes "New York City's Metropolitan Transit Authority launched it's first fully computer controlled subway line this month. The `L' Line of the MTA that connects the southern part of Manhattan with Brooklyn was picked for this pilot program because of its relatively short length and the fact that it doesn't share tracks with any other lines. Trains on this line no longer have conductors on board, and only a single driver in the front to monitor all the systems. What's the big deal, you may ask? After all, cities like San Francisco and Paris already have computerized subway lines. Well, having recently celebrated its 100th anniversary the MTA is one of the oldest subway systems in the United States, and one of the largest in the world. If all goes well, the MTA will continue to expand automated service to the rest of the subway system over the next 20 years. But just how safe and secure will these new automated lines be? The radio links that provide data communication between the trains and the control center are encrypted, but how long until a hacker manages to crack it?"
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New York Computerizes its Subway System

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  • Cracker schmackers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ackthpt (218170) * on Monday April 11, 2005 @11:30PM (#12208422) Homepage Journal
    But just how safe and secure will these new automated lines be? The radio links that provide data communication between the trains and the control center are encrypted, but how long until a hacker manages to crack it?"

    Worry more about the failsafes. Are they independent systems, or would a single point of failure allow to trains to attempt to pass through each other? A good failsafe system should keep passengers safe from accident even if some cracker gets in. Hopefully it won't be a matter of life and death because some programmer who actually worked on the system suffered a brain-fart and assumed 1 based instead of 0.

    As for the 20 year estimate, that sounds more the result of negotiations with the transit workers union than ability to get things switch over. You know City Hall, when it comes to a budget, they suddenly know the value of each penny and would switch the whole thing over in a couple years, tops.

    On the subject of anniversaries... 2005 will be the 50th of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    • actually, the bombs were dropped during the II World War, that is 1945. it will mark the 60th anniversarie.
    • Power Grid Setup (Score:4, Interesting)

      by PhYrE2k2 (806396) on Monday April 11, 2005 @11:41PM (#12208509)
      Take a look at the way the power grid works (or is intended to work). The big North America power shutdown two summers ago was that a power plant in north eastern United States sent bad data to the grid, which triggered a shutdown. It's better to be safe than sorry.

      While I agree it could have probably tried to isolate the problem more rather than a full shutdown, I'm sure it was designed this way for good reason with more serious problems in mind.

      If signaling gets interrupted, really all trains should assume the worst- that there is another train or object right in front of them and stop. Now this means that anyone with a jammer above ground of some sort could shut down the subway line... but again the lesser of two evils.

      They should really consider instead some sort of 'data' rail or something. I wonder if data over the power rail works with such high voltage?

      How are they going to take into account kids on the tracks and stuff. I realize this is underground and a subway, but there have been cases where kids explore the tunnels late in the evenings when the trains are sparse. You can get to most of them through various access points taht are often pretty accessable to those with some intuition and a willingness to climb.

      -M
      • What's the voltage of them? Internet via power lines (even 500k volt high tension wires) exists in some parts of the country.
      • Re:Power Grid Setup (Score:5, Informative)

        by marcsiry (38594) on Monday April 11, 2005 @11:50PM (#12208586) Homepage
        Non-New Yorkers may be excused for not getting our backward terminology for train staff.

        The 'Conductor,' who in the rest of the worl drives the trains, sits in the center of NYC subway trains and opens and closes the doors, and announces stops (until the recorded voices in recent trains, that is).

        The guy driving the train up front, and looking for kids and other garbage on the tracks, is called the 'motorman.' You see, he's the guy that turns the motor on and off. Or something.

        Anyhow, they're planning to eliminate the conductor, but keep the motorman- so there will still be someone up front watching for imminent collisions. When they're not asleep, that is.

        • Re:Power Grid Setup (Score:3, Informative)

          by whimmel (189969)
          Actually, in the rest of the world the Engineer is who drives the train. The conductor rides the train and checks tickets and whatnot.

          Unless it's a Walt Disney World Monorail, then the driver's title is Pilot (it's not on the ground ;-))

          Yes, I hate being called a Conductor.
    • As for the 20 year estimate, that sounds more the result of negotiations with the transit workers union than ability to get things switch over. You know City Hall, when it comes to a budget, they suddenly know the value of each penny and would switch the whole thing over in a couple years, tops.

      Not too likely. The biggest constraint is probably that they only have about 2 to 3 hours per day to actually do the work, including setup and teardown and a limited number of crews with the knowledge to do the wo
    • Even with failsafes, there seems no end to the way humanss can bypass the system. Deadman's switches can be taped down etc.

      I heard of an incident, I think in London, where there were two safeguards in the driver's cab: the deadman's switch had to be held and the door had to be shut. Pretty soon, the drivers figured to tape up the switch and open/shut the door as a control mechanism. This was fine until a driver stepped out of the cab at a station and let the door slide shut. Train goes off with no driver!

      • by Jeffrey Baker (6191) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @12:04AM (#12208688)
        This happened with a train I was riding on the SF Muni. The train is supposed to leave after the computerized control system clears the train out of the station, and after the driver hits the door close button, and after the doors actually close. Well, this train was malfunctioning (thanks, Breda!) and the door wouldn't close. But the train had been cleared and the driver had hit the door close switch. So the driver gets out of the cab, walks out the door onto the platform, and dislodges the door, which closes. The train takes off and he's still on the platform. Comedy, I tell you.
    • Most automated applications (even simple things like those using PLCs) have interlocks in the logic (code) and hardware (i.e. using relays) to prevent bad things to happen. Even small automation tasks are usually designed using tools like Stop and go procedures guide (Gemma in french), ensuring nothing bad happens in any case (like emergency stops or similar events). For anything safety related like that, there is a lot of redundancy built-in at every level (be it sensors, processing, comms, ...) Systems ar
  • by duffahtolla (535056) on Monday April 11, 2005 @11:30PM (#12208424)
    They probably already have.
    • by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @12:10AM (#12208723)
      People have tried to hack the metrocard system for years. The closest they came was a decidedly non-l33t solution involving demagnetising part of the strip relating to card expiration date. It gave access for a week, only because they MTA had the system set for "be generous". Some NYers, led by the local tabloid "The Daily News" tend to be moderate to extremely luddite when it comes to technology, and the metrocard was not welcomed with open arms. When it was first released the MTA went to great lengths to ensure that no one felt the metro card system was "ripping them off". So rather than properly rejecting expired cards (that may have had money on them, you see), they let them through. Some smartass realised that by erasing the part of the strip that contained the expiration date, the reader would automatically decide the card was expired. Since the system was set to ignore that on initial release, they got through. Once the exploit got out, they stopped it, iirc within 3 days of the first occurance (the system tracks this too, you see).

      Things have changed since then, and in light of a recent subway fire that caused great inconvenience, NYers have gone the other way, wishing that the entire system was computerized. Yea, even the Daily News quite vociferously raised the cry for greater computerization in the MTA switching network.

      The MTA is underfunded but not stupid or poorly run. The system is well designed and the underlying databases are also redundant and protected. The hardest part of the job for them is getting funding approved for their various efforts, they usually do a good job of executing once they get it. They've worked quite hard on this new system, it'll be a step forward in spite of the pundits.

  • Hmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by pHatidic (163975) on Monday April 11, 2005 @11:31PM (#12208432)
    The radio links that provide data communication between the trains and the control center are encrypted, but how long until a hacker manages to crack it?

    Only if DVD-Jon has an MTA-Bob counterpart

  • Oh no (Score:5, Funny)

    by ravenspear (756059) on Monday April 11, 2005 @11:32PM (#12208437)
    The `L' Line of the MTA

    Man, that just brought back horrific memories of sendmail M4 syntax.
  • "New York Computerizes its Subway System"

    This sounds like the beginning of another crappy TV movie...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11, 2005 @11:33PM (#12208452)
    Yes No Cancel
  • Potential problems (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pomo monster (873962) on Monday April 11, 2005 @11:34PM (#12208458)
    In New York, train dwell times--time spent in stations--can be frustratingly long, especially during rush hours. Besides people pushing and shoving to get on the train, you've also got the jokers who hold the doors for their friends who're still running down the stairs.

    Without a conductor, who's going to yell at everyone to stop holding the doors? How does this work in other automated systems, like Paris's Météor?
    • by boa13 (548222) on Monday April 11, 2005 @11:48PM (#12208568) Homepage Journal
      Without a conductor, who's going to yell at everyone to stop holding the doors? How does this work in other automated systems, like Paris's Météor?

      Trust me, you don't hold the doors -- you can't, they're too strong. Or maybe you can, but I've yet to see someone try (even though that's a local sport on other, non-automated lines -- it's not like nobody ever holds doors in Paris).

      They make some kind of "sound of inevitability", loud and somewhat fast. Then, there's the fact that there are two set of doors per opening (one for the platform, one for the train itself), twice as much to hold when compared to the older lines.

      Finally, there's decent traffic on the line, you don't have to wait much if you miss a train (except after 10pm, when you need to wait five minutes or so).

      So, as much as it occured even to me to hold the doors for a nearby friend on other lines (nearby meaning really nearby, not at the top of the stairs far over there), it never occured on line 14 (the automated line).
      • by tokki (604363)
        Are you kidding? It's easy to hold the doors. Will you can't force them open, they don't apply that much closing force (to keep from severing limbs) and if they face any resistence, they open back up (letting you slip in). Stick and arm or bag, and it'll open back up. Even if someone has their back to the door and their bag gets caught, the door will open back up again.

        I live 1 block from the L, and it's the main train I take. This should be... interesting.
        • by bjb (3050) *
          They open back up because the conductor re-opens the doors. The train cannot release the brakes unless all doors are in their closed and LOCKED position (you hear a slight "click" when the doors actually lock) unless they're overridden by a key (there is a key hole by every door for this; enable/disable/override).

          Basically, the conductor HAS to reopen the door to attempt to resolve the situation so the train can move out of the station.

          I've been in trains before where the door actually failed to work ri

    • why should the doors stop? maybe they can bounce back once, and then make some sort of "ok, now I mean business" beep, and then close for good. who's going to feel sorry for you if you get hurt that way?

      that, or they could just have a cop on the platform issuing tickets for anyone who holds the doors open...
      • by magefile (776388) on Monday April 11, 2005 @11:59PM (#12208658)
        And if you trip? Or (as has happened to me a few times) your wheelchair stalls in the doorway? Or a stubborn young child doesn't want to come with their parent? Or ... I don't think I need to continue.

        In short, shit happens. There should always be a mechanism so the door stops automatically if an electric eye or a pressure sensor notes an obstruction. Now, a long enough delay should probably summon human intervention, but the doors should never just close.
    • by hattig (47930)
      I don't know about Paris' underground system, but some new systems install double doors, doors on the platform that match the train doors. It isn't possible to hold each one open at the same time easily. New sections of the london underground have it. it also stops suicides as the inner doors only open when a train is stopped.

      Not that I've ever seen a conductor on the london underground, either on the train or on the platform. Just some monitors for the driver to see, and a populace who can behave to some
      • The St.Petersburg subway system in Russia has some stations similarly decked-out (double doors). This scheme, however, was abandoned due to a number of issues - 1) The train doors would, occasionally, not line up with the platform doors. I remember a particular nasty case where one of the set of doors of the last car on some station would only line up with HALF the platform door, which made exit/entry very odd and uncomfortable. 2) The closing/opening of car and platform doors was not synced very well. Ther
    • by timealterer (772638) <slashdot@@@alteringtime...com> on Monday April 11, 2005 @11:59PM (#12208659) Homepage
      Here in Vancouver, we occasionally have an issue on our automated rapid transit trains with people holding the doors. Luckily, in the absense of a conductor to yell at the fool holding everybody up, the other train passengers take on this role. The doors will try to close, and if obstructed, will re-open for about 2 seconds. If you're still in the way a second time, people start to voice their annoyance that you're making them late for work.
    • by quetzalc0atl (722663) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @12:01AM (#12208667)
      this problem, and others related to subway travel, have existing engineering solutions.

      how to stop people from holding the doors? place a 2nd set of doors on the platform outside the train, a set which ppl will have to walk through in order to get on the train. This set would close around 10 seconds before the train doors - therefore, no point trying to hold them open. And if you have ever been in NY, you will know that ppl all surround the train doors before they open and then push each other chaotically. having a 2nd set of doors, along with a series of gates to herd the ppl aboard quickly, would be a simple solution to this.

      another thing that could be done is that while ppl are waiting at the station the platform could have a scale under it. Based upon the weight, the number of ppl waiting for the train at that particular station could be estimated, and using this value traffic decisions such as "have next train stop at station" or "just pass this station by - not enough ppl" could be made by a centralized system such as the one in the article.
    • In the Japanese systems in Tokyo, there are people to check for such things, even though the system is automated. In the SkyTrain system in Vancouver, Canada, there are no personnel at any of the stops. I have experienced extremely packed stations after a hockey game got out, and I saw that the doors couldn't really be held open - like an elevator door, they closed slowly after being blocked open once.
    • by sjwaste (780063)
      Here in DC the doors shut fast and if you try to hold them, they don't open back up, they just stay at the point where you resisted enough to stop them. At this point a person definitely can't fit through. In fact, thats why our dwell times are relatively short. The doors close reasonably soon because usually another train is right behind.

      I've just moved down here from NJ and I'm quite impressed with the DC Metrorail. It's clean because they enforce the "no food" policy too.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11, 2005 @11:36PM (#12208468)
    I was in Jr High when BART was being built. Our school's computer classes were given access to the SINGER computer that was setup to run BART.

    We as students had great funny trying out the different options avaiable at the time. We tried to get into train control programs to see what we could do.

    I think the guys at BART were using us to test security on system. One week we would be able to run train control and "race" trains (actually just the train objects, the tracks were not even layed yet!) and the following week we weren't.

    MTA in should let students help in debugging the logic... because we as students did not know what was or was to work... we just played.
    • Our school's computer classes were given access to the SINGER computer that was setup to run BART.

      I don't recall hearing abuot a Singer computer used for running BART, but they did have quite a collection of rare hardware. One example was that they had three of the four of a certain model of Philco computers in existence (ca 1975). They also had some Westinghouse Prodac 2000 boxes.

      I've also heard that there was a small bug in the simulation program that led them to think capacity was going to be higher t

  • When I was a kid... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Short Circuit (52384) * <mikemol@gmail.com> on Monday April 11, 2005 @11:37PM (#12208476) Homepage Journal
    I wanted to automate control of model railroad switches from a computer. At the time, it probably would have ended in disaster. However, looking at the problem now, it doesn't seem too complicated:

    • Track the velocities of the trains.
    • Track positions of switches
    • If a train is approaching a switch, make sure the switch is in a position that won't derail it.
    • If a train has a switch locked (i.e. it's on top of it, or nearly so), stop the train that is approaching but doesn't have a lock. Resume when lock lifted.
    • Ensure that trains don't rear-end each other.
    • Use the same locking mechanism for crossings, so trains won't collide.
    • Add switch behavior hints as needed if a train has a specific destination, as opposed to merely running round and round the track.


    You might be able to ID each train by its engine's impedance to current flow on a segment of track, though that might be affected by the load on the electric motor.
    • So this is a basic Semaphor and locking algorithm.

      Pretty much make sure that the trains don't use the same track (resources).

      Have a timer for the station waits and an attendant to help enforce them (again locking to ensure the doors are all closed)- maybe some sort of fine for trying to enter after an orange light comes on or something (read: money grab).

      Most slashdot readers could probably write this in C, Perl, Assembly, etc in a matter of a couple hours. DESPITE this, it's the actual signalling that
    • We tried this in a project at university many years ago. Problem was that the power was so noisy in a standard electric train set that we couldn't establish with any certainty exactly where the train was, let alone which train it was.
    • ... or you could use RFID and multiple receivers to set up your own miniature GPS system ... ;-)
  • by conrius (814609) on Monday April 11, 2005 @11:37PM (#12208484)
    seems that recently a portion of the subway burnt down and when the guys went down to repair it they found that the hardware driving the system dated back to the 1930's. After more digging they found that the original systems laid in the early 1900's till 1920 were still operating and actually in daily use in many other parts of the subway. point is that thing is working well that they dont want to touch the thing. the other fact is that there is no way they are going to get the thing changed without majorly affecting the daily workings of the system.
    • by cheekyboy (598084) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @12:42AM (#12208899) Homepage Journal
      If they upgrade to all brand new chineese import parts, the thing will fall apart in 3 years I bet. Just like everything else, those cheap headphones etc... wire breaking, tsk. Yes big bulky stuff can be ugly, but hey, it'll last a century, not that CEOs care for that these days, unless they sell it at 3000% profit to cover 100 years of lost sales ;)

      What ever happened to the old attitude of build it tuff, build it strong to last, rather than build it to last just long enough until the next upgrade to increase perpetual sales?

      Oh well, maybe the next inflation boom / economic down turn will turn people back into long term long life attitudes.
  • by John Seminal (698722) on Monday April 11, 2005 @11:38PM (#12208490) Journal
    and everything was fine til I got to this sentance:

    Trains on this line no longer have conductors on board

    I dunno about the rest of you, but I want a conductor on the train. Things like having a human look outside the train to make sure nobody is about to get on when the doors close, having someone on the train in case of an emergancy, having someone on the train that is a detterent to crime (just imagine, would a would-be rapist be more or less likely to rape a woman if a conductor was walking up and down the cars).

    And part of me feels bad for the guy losing the job, the conductor.

    Continue reading the news story:

    To have a truly integrated system, the city would have to continue buying all its equipment from Siemens AG, effectively giving it a monopoly.

    This also raises a red flag. One company that will in effect control the whole parts system? How can we know we won't get hosed with the price?

    Even if they do autimate, lets keep the conductor. Someone who knows how the train runs. Someone who can over-ride the computers if needed. Every vessel needs her captin.

    • by WhiteBandit (185659) on Monday April 11, 2005 @11:47PM (#12208557) Homepage
      Yeah, the San Francisco Muni [sfmuni.com] is only computerized while the trains are in the tunnels (and not while the trains are on the surface streets).

      That said, even in the tunnels, each train still has a conductor/driver to take over in case something happens (such as someone throwing themselves in front of the train). The only thing the conductors do in the tunnel is close the doors (even the opening is controlled by computers).
    • I agree with you about the monopoly, that's never good.

      But about the conductor. I agree it's kind of sad for conductors, and it's nice (in theory) to have a pair of eyes watching out for the safety of all.

      BUT, in the case, I think a well designed system could actually work much better than a human.

      Humans are good at observing, but only while they're observing. Where I live the conductors on the trains are mostly staring blankly into nothingness. They don't prevent people from getting doors closed on t
    • by RollingThunder (88952) on Monday April 11, 2005 @11:55PM (#12208621)
      The Skytrain in Vancouver BC is completely automated, and it works well.

      The doors have "pinch" sensors, and while people can use them to get the door to re-open, it only re-opens three times until the system flags a central operator. Usually people start yelling after the second time.

      In emergencies, there's a panic strip and a comm system, and cameras.

      There are control panels, but they're only used when something bizarre has happened on the track and manual routing is needed.
    • I understand what you're saying, but you have clearly never ridden an MTA train. Basically, there is no room for passengers to move from point to point once inside, it would be completely impossible for a conductor to do the same.
    • I wouldn't worry about the conductors, most likely they simply will not hire as many new ones.

      As for the monopoly, afaicr, that's temporary. Now that the system is chosen more suppliers will build components to fit the system. Siemens simply has a leg up on them.
    • I want to know if the rates are going to increase or decrease. Often, companies will replace people with computers to save money, but initially raise prices (or implement a fee) to "cover the cost of the technology." Once the customer gets used to paying for technology and the company recognizes the high profit it generates (you don't have to pay a computer a salary), they often just decide to pay the executives bonuses instead of lowering prices. Even when we outsource to cheaper countries, the extra pr
    • by GISGEOLOGYGEEK (708023) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @01:00AM (#12208998)
      1991 New York City ... a conductor drunk at the controls caused a crash.

      Need I say more?

      yes, i need to ..

      What makes you think that the trains don't have manual controls? The fully computerized Skytrain in Vancouver BC, that has run since 1986 without a crash, has manual controls on each train hidden behind locked panels in case they are needed.

      What makes you think that a closing door is somehow going to hurt someone? The skytrain doors have this magical bizarre ability to stop closing if resistance is met, say by a person entering late, incredible isnt it! Heck, I've blocked the doors on rare occasion to help disabled or elderly people get on, and the doors didnt kill me!

      I dont feel bad for one second about any conductor loosing his job. Why should I pay twice the fare so that some fat union bastard can sit there doing a pointless job? How do you know he's paying attention? How do you know he's awake, or whether or not he's drunk like the one in 1991?

  • Railroaded (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Monday April 11, 2005 @11:41PM (#12208513) Homepage Journal
    What the MTA really needs to do is publish realtime subway position info. On billboards in the stations, on their website, on automated phone lines, as a pager/sms subscription/request service. Millions of us use it daily, wasting millions of hours of America's most productive workforce as we wait for trains, miss express connections, clog stations. The uncertainty keeps many people using cars and taxis, which make the roads even worse. Automating subways will save a few million a year in conductor costs, out of an $8B budget, which will be lost every day in the productivity of our workers. But I guess MTA contractors don't get a cut of the productivity gains from sensible priorities. Thanks Mayor Bloomberg, and Governor Pataki (who controls the MTA), and Sir Giuliani, who blew the only real chance of taking the subway back from the state for the people who it actually serves.
    • Re:Railroaded (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Leontes (653331)
      This is an excellent point. When I lived in the city, I would obsessively calculate where I should exit the train in order to leave the station or transfer trains in the most efficient way possible. With a digital billboard with the location, speed, and pattern of the trains clearly viewable to the public, the efficiency increase for people traveling in the city would be enormous. People would intuitively know where to exit and enter trains, whether it was better to wait, to take the local or the express,
      • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Monday April 11, 2005 @11:56PM (#12208631) Homepage Journal
        As a native New Yorker, I'm torn. I cherish the veteran's advantage of mastering the routing strategy and split-second decisions whether to jump for transfers, or blow off an express. But the prospect of thousands of commuters getting out of the way, on their own initiative guided by "live maps" in the stations makes me grin. Someday, maybe after we get those flying cars they used to draw in NYC comics...
        • A couple years ago I was working at a design firm that was part of the clean up process for downtown. We were not privy to details, but one of the plans for the WTC includes almost a "modern" Grand Central, that would be used to connect busses, ferry's, subway and PATH. Part of the plan included starting to set up an automated system, but it was going to be a gigantic job.

          The Subways are huge, and old, and it's easy to forget that. Adding such a system is a huge undertaking. I bet we see the 2nd ave
          • I bet we see the $1B the MTA stole from us in 2002, to justify raising the rates while decaying the service, before we see any consumer-oriented improvements in subway service. For example, there are a total of 2 "cleanup cars" for the entire system. The size of the job didn't stop New York from building the system over the last century. The complexity of the job isn't the bottleneck - it's that Pataki doesn't care one bit about people in NYC, except when they're donating bribe^Wcampaign money - and those p
    • I agree that would be great. A stopgap measure that I saw on the subway in Budapest is to simply have timers that count up, resetting when a train leaves the station. So you know when the last train was there, and can use that to gauge how long your wait will probably be.

      (Yes, we use proxies for this information, like how many other people are on the platform; and it doesn't let you know when there's a snafu and the next train won't be for 25 minutes. Like I said, a stopgap, but I think a handy one.)
  • Curious Kid #1: Ohhh... neeeaaato!
    Curious Kid #2: Neeato! No driver!
    Curious Kid #1: What's that at the end of the tunnel?
    Curious Kid #2: A headlight?
    Alarmed Passenger: A HEADLIGHT! HEEEEELLLLP! Somebody stop the train!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11, 2005 @11:42PM (#12208525)
    Computers don't:
    1) get drunk.
    2) get distracted. (Chicago collision recently)
    3) fall asleep.

    All of which have killed people in the past. People can whine all they want about how dangerous it is not to have a person running the trains. Personally, I'm happier. Controlling trains in 1D isn't that hard folks. Not at all like flying an airplane, where autopilot has been accepted for decades.
    • I'd guess the only thing difficult about controlling a train is dealing with the extreme boredom from such a monotonous job. My uncle drives diesel locomotives and says this is a problem even on the big trains, which are now mostly computerized much like subways.
  • by marcsiry (38594) on Monday April 11, 2005 @11:44PM (#12208533) Homepage
    On the BART or DC's Metro, the displays that tell you when the next train is coming are really just there to calm your impatience- normally the train you're waiting for is the only one you can take anyhow.

    In New York City, which has an enormously complex subway system, it's different. If you're standing in the Times Square subway station, you can choose from at least seven different subway lines, radiating in all directions.

    Without a status display, New Yorkers are reduced to leaning over the edge of the platform to peer down a darkened tunnel for the telltale glint of subway headlights when deciding to wait for the 3 or jump on the 1. Forget about running upstairs to check for the R- you have to go with your gut that the IRT generally comes more frequently than the BMT (how's that for some old school NY goodness?)

    The most exciting thing the article mentions are the status displays (grafitti resistant, I hope) that give you a running diplay of approaching trains and their time to arrival.

    New Yorkers are notoriously impatient, and a large part of why we're so rude is having to deal with the daily hassles of getting from one end of the stinkin' island to another. I guarantee these status screens will attract so many eyeballs that they'll pay for themselves with supplemental advertising within months.
  • the tracks, jim! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by homerj79 (58075) on Monday April 11, 2005 @11:46PM (#12208552) Homepage
    I wonder if instead of using radio, if they could devise a way to send the signals down the track? That way the hacker would have to risk their life to try to take over the train.
  • This is definitely a good thing. From what people say, the NYC subway is a technological nightmare. A few months back a fire destroyed an equipment room full of controol equipment dating from the 70s, effectively disabling a portion of the line for several months because the equipment was completely proprietary and non-redundant.

    That being said, the whole NYC transit system needs to be seriously rethought. Even worse than the transit system in NYC itself is the regional transit system in the suburban ar
    • That line was up and running again in weeks, not months, mostly because a) big political bureaucracies like the NYC MTA always overstate the time/budget needed (aka the 'Scotty effect'), and b) the system wasn't so overly complicated that replacing the gear, recreating the settings, etc, didn't take as long or cost as much as it would've if the system was using modern electronics.

      Some of the equipment destroyed was actually from the 1930s; the MTA took advantage of the unplanned downtime to patch the syste
  • Problem is you NEED a conductor on the subway train, just in case something happens on the train. They are able to call police, or tell the driver to stop, etc.

    Removing conductors will definately reduce safety, not because of hackers, but because of conductor's ability to control various situations that may arise on the train.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Did I just read those two words in a story about the new York subway system?
  • I take the A/C Line everyday to work. A central switch system center caught fire and service has been even more horrid since the incident. I've also noticed an increase in vermin and general subway disrepair everywhere I look. Other lines are even worst. When I occasionally have to transfer to the 4/5 they have brand new trains but they are so slim line that it's not just cramped but hard to even stand.

    Then I read about this computer system somewhere and I looked at the increase in fare i've been paying an
  • Useless Fanciness (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I'm not sure how useful this fancy automated system is. The current automatic block system with mechanical stops is VERY reliable, having had 100 years to be refined. It also has been shown to be fail-safe, and has capacity for 30 trains per hour (and up to 40 in more refined variants). The fail-safe mechanisms on railroad signal logic are amazing. Relays have weights on them rather than springs, because springs are more likely to fail. Everything is very very carefully designed to not fail, or if it does f
  • The current systems running most of the subway lines are the ORIGINAL systems.

    As in installed in 1932 or earlier.

    A recent fire in a control room severely disrupted service on 1-2 subway lines, and they are *still* not returned to "normal" service and likely never will be because the damaged systems were so ancient that there is no way to fully repair them.

    Unfortunately, upgrading the system is a real bitch because upgrades mean downtime, and downtime is basically not an option for the MTA.

    The issue was
  • The L line is terrible. I have friends that live on it in Brooklyn, and they frequently can't into Manhattan on the week-ends, since that line is really the only way in or out (there is a bus, but it's SLOOOOWWWW). I predict that this is just going to lead to more troubles.

    On the other hand, maybe all the hipsters in Williamsburg will just stay there...
    • by Artifice_Eternity (306661) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @12:38AM (#12208880) Homepage
      The reason the L line (which I use every day) has been down on the weekends is precisely BECAUSE they've been installing this computer system.

      So it will only "solve" the problem because its installation is the source of the problem.

      I agree with all the people who have pointed out that:

      1. The current system, while low-tech, works pretty damn well. It is a certainty that the new tech will have more bugs (because it's new) and more things that can go wrong (because it's far more expensive and complex).

      2. Conductors do not just serve as announcers and door operators -- they are also a pair of eyes that can spot any "human" problems on or around the train. The MTA recently closed hundreds of token booths at less-used station entrances. Now they're eliminating conductors. God help us if NYC experiences another crime wave.

      The real reason they are going to computer control is to cram more trains thru the system in the same amount of time. In theory, this will shorten waits, crowding, and ride times... assuming that the new gadgetry works, and that you don't get mugged.
  • ...and if the person that hacked it causes problems, if they are found, will probably be charged with terrorism. Probably be charged with terrorism for just trying to hack it. Not that I mind, trying to f*ck with mass transit where lives might be at stake, is just plain stupid for anyone that doesn't want to be charged with negligent homicide or worse.
  • I would like to point out that in Moscow subway system, a fully computerised line (grey line) was introduced in early 80's. The rest of the subway stayed with proper drivers. In early 90's there were two crashes (within several months of each other) on the computerised line. The reason was that due to technical problems one train stopped, and the train behind it slammed into it. The curious thing is that the traffic lights in the tunnels correctly lighted red (since they are redundant, in case of such emer
    • All New York City subway lines have pneumatic tripcocks tied into the signal relays. It's impossible for a train to pass a red signal without having its emergency brake tripped. The tripcocks require pneumatic pressure to be pushed down, guaranteeing that a malfunctioning one stops a train instead of letting it through. These are still there in the new CBTC system and aren't going anywhere.
    • ya sure, great example, I guess it didnt occur to you that under pressure to move more people faster, some programmer may have simply been told to allow the trains to travel so close together that a collision was unavoidable if a problem arose.

      All computerized subways must be evil because a virtual 3rd world country that is notorios for extreme beauracracies that destroys the form and function of most projects, and that can't afford a penny for anything screwed up had crashes.

      Like the Russian government e
  • by Brendor (208073) <brendan.e@NoSpAm.gmail.com> on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @12:07AM (#12208702) Journal
    First of all this program hasn't started full time yet. I live near Graham Ave, 3 stops from Manhattan and weekday mornings the city-bound commute can be very crowded. On busy days I have to wait for a 2nd or third train before I can squeeze myself into the last available spot near the door farthest from the turnstile. On these days people at the Bedford stop, the last before Manhattan (yeah, that [slashdot.org] Bedford) often have to wait for 4 or more cars before they can get on the train. I think its great the MTA thinks it can pack more trains closer together, but I'll believe it when I see it.

    This morning I had one of the most peaceful commutes in quite a while. I attribute it fully to the conductor, urging us at every stop to "Step aside, let others off before you get on. If you can't fit on the train there is another train right behind this one."

    The new system will not do this.

    Even if it works flawlessly, many will still resent it for a long time. The installation phase has been shutting down sections of the line for 3 years every weekend, often for months at a time. It was pretty annoying to have to wait in a station for 35 minutes because only one train is running, only to see an empty car go by you on the" closed" track, carrying a few engineers with 15" powerbooks and some other random equipment.

    • This morning I had one of the most peaceful commutes in quite a while. I attribute it fully to the conductor, urging us at every stop to "Step aside, let others off before you get on. If you can't fit on the train there is another train right behind this one."

      Something about what you said struck a chord... I live in Tokyo, and the default, accepted behavior is to step to either side of the door and let people rush off before attempting to get on. I guess I'm so used to this now that I kind of figured i
  • by alphorn (667624) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @12:08AM (#12208707)
    Nuremberg will introduce a completely driverless subway next year. Good article with lots of pictures. See (partially English) PDF [siemens.at]
  • by ABeowulfCluster (854634) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @12:10AM (#12208719)
    That's 19 years. Older than some slashdot readers.

    I for one welcome New York to 20'th century technology while we live in the 21'st century.

    • I for one welcome New York to 20'th century technology while we live in the 21'st century.
      Your snarky comment sounds impressive to those who don't understand the differences (and who are probably anti-US anyhow)... But it's unmitigated bullshit.

      It's easy (as these things go) to build a fully automated line when it's fairly small and pretty much a simple loop or point-to-point built all at once. (Yes, I know the two lines were built at separate times, but each was built all at once.) It's ignorant in the extreme to believe that 'proves' anything about a system a hundred times or more larger and orders of magnitude more complex.

      Compare the Skytrain [nycsubway.org] routes with the New York subway [nycsubway.org] routes.

    • Big friggin' whoop. The JFK Airtrain [panynj.gov] is fully automated and runs via linear induction motors. The 42nd St. Shuttle [nycsubway.org] experimented with automated trains all the way back in 1962... 24 years before your precious Vancouver train.

      I, for one, welcome our northern neighbors' ignorant statement and incorrect feeling of superiority, eh?

  • Or (Score:2, Informative)

    by spudchucker (680073)
    but how long until a hacker manages to crack it?

    Or cracker manages to hack it?
  • by danila (69889) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @01:49AM (#12209299) Homepage
    I am always glad about computerization, but it surprises me that you can't ensure uninterrupted traffic on a dedicated subway line.

    In Russia subway trains are controlled by humans, but they still manage to ensure safe and reliable operation. The trains go with the interval as small as 90 seconds and still they manage to avoid congestion. Of course, the subways here are not 100-years old - more like 50-years old, but still.
  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:39AM (#12209508) Homepage
    If you want to see classic relay-based signalling, as used in the NYC subways, download NXSYS [nycsubway.org], a Windows-based simulator for the NYC subway signalling system.

    This is an incredibly detailed simulator, going all the way down to the relay level. You can work the control panels, look at the relay schematics, and see the signals from the train operator's perspective in OpenGL.

    The system simulated, developed by General Railway Signal in the 1940s, is the first "intelligent user interface" ever developed. There were many earlier signal systems, and by 1914 or so they were routinely interlocked against operator errors for safety. But this one, NX, for "entry-exit" signalling, was the first one that offered intelligent assistance to the signal operator.

    The train dispatcher selects a train entering a junction full of switches, signals, and trains. The NX system will then light up all the currently valid "exits", places the train can exit the junction, checking for conflicts with other trains and timing constraints. When the operator selects an "exit", with one button push, the NX system does everything else. It sets the track switches, verifies that they're in position and locked, turns the appropriate signals green, lowers the appropriate train stops (alongside the track are mechanical devices that, if raised, will be hit by an air brake valve on any passing subway car, bringing the train to a stop), and tracks the train as it moves through the junction. As the train clears each signal, switch or crossover, that resource is released so another train can use it.

    The train stops come back up behind each train (and the signalling system verifies that they do so), so that separation between trains is maintained. Even speed control is enforced. There are timers all through the system, so that when a train passes one signal, there's a minimum time before it can pass the next one. An overspeeding train will be tripped and stopped.

    It's all done with relays. Big relays, with silver contacts to prevent corrosion. It's fail-safe in a formal sense - no relay coil failure, power failure, or broken wire will result in an unsafe condition. Everything is designed to "fail to red". The designers trusted gravity and solid metal, and not much else.

    Situations programmer types never think of are handled. For example, a train stop might become jammed due to ice. That's not only detected, it's handled properly. If a train stop protecting a switch won't go to the up (stop) position, the signalling system won't let the switch move. (And the gear is rugged enough that when someone goes out with a blowtorch to unfreeze the thing, it will be unharmed.)

    This is a very safe technology. But it requires a huge, highly trained maintenance force.

  • bad, bad idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Triv (181010) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @03:13AM (#12209649) Journal
    Look, I'm all for automation, but I have the same problem with this that I had with the city's plan to automate all metrocard purchases with an eye to getting rid of overnight booth workers.

    If you need help late at night in the city, the one thing you can count on is having a human in a booth in the subway. They might be surly, but if you NEED help those people can be your best friends. A conductor focusing on the platform and keeping an eye out for trouble serves a purpose a computer can't possibly compete with. You wouldn't need 'em 99.99% of the time, but that one time you're getting your ass kicked and need help is no time to go looking for a police call box.

    I mean, I know it's heretical to say this here, but computers can't do everything.
  • In london (Score:4, Informative)

    by Yaruar (125933) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @04:47AM (#12209972)
    We have a number of automated lines. THe Docklands Light Railway is fully automated and runs really well. At least 3 of the lines on the Tube are computer controlled too with the drivers there to monitor the doors.

    However the automation ahd led to some interesting and unforseen difficulties. The automated systems speed up and slow down at the same points in the track it is putting extra stresses on certain sections of track and sleepers which leads to degraded track safety.

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