Recent 7 Train Slowdowns Were Caused By…Slush
On Wednesday, the 7 train ran at half speed, delaying customers during the morning rush. The same thing happened on December 2nd. According to the MTA, these delays were caused by snow and slush covering the brand new signal communication equipment.
“I was extremely unhappy about that,” New York City Transit President Andy Byford told reporters after an unrelated press conference on Wednesday.
The new $600 million CBTC signals on the 7 line installed by the company Thales use transponders embedded between the tracks that communicates with a receiver on the trains, which allows CBTC to work, unless there’s snow or slush covering the transponder, in which case it loses the signal.
“This is a known phenomenon that they have known about and have been working on since March 2019,” Byford said. “I’m kind of kicking myself that I wasn’t as much on top of Thales to check in where we were.”
Byford is now. The transit chief sent a letter to the Executive Vice President of Ground Transportation Systems at Thales on Wednesday in which he wrote, “This failure is wholly inexcusable” and warned, “Failure to immediately resolve this issue will result in severe commercial consequences.” (At the press conference, Byford declined to cite any specific monetary penalty.)
During both delays, eight trains became “delocalized,” meaning the computer system didn’t know where they were because of the transponder failures. As a precaution, the MTA reduced speeds to 25 miles per hour on the 7 line, from the 45 to 50 mph that they would’ve been traveling.
There are 498 transponders in total on the 7 line, 110 of which are potentially at risk for snow/slush issues. Thales covered 30 of them in March, but 80 more have been identified as vulnerable. The MTA said 40 plastic covers would be installed Wednesday, and an additional 40 in the next week and a half.
Byford also called the New York director of Thales Wednesday morning for what he called a “dressing down.”
“They know that I’m on the warpath about this, they know that I’m furious about this,” he said. “They’ve been told in very blunt terms to get the remaining covers, the remaining transponders covered by this weekend when there’s more bad weather predicted.”
With the new signals the 7 train had been celebrating an on time performance of more than 90 percent.
The L train is the only other line that currently uses CBTC, and it also has outdoor tracks. But it has not experienced the same weather related issues because, Byford said, those signals were installed by Siemens, which placed them slightly higher off the ground, making them less susceptible to being covered with slush.
Slushgate comes as the MTA is preparing to spend $7 billion to install CBTC across the system. Byford warned Thales that it may be ineligible to apply for contracts going forward. “They’re putting in jeopardy their prospects of future work at New York City Transit because I’m not going to go and buy a system if its prone to bad weather,” he said.
A spokesperson for Thales told us, “Thales is deeply sorry for the impact this problem has had on New Yorkers and their reliable use of the 7 Line under adverse weather conditions. All our teams are fully resourced, mobilized and committed to deliver and deploy the solution as quickly as possible in order to offer New York commuters the best level of service and avoid speed reductions in such weather conditions.”