The signal system is the hidden, unglamorous backbone of the subway, controlling when trains can move down the tracks. But it is so outdated that it cannot identify precisely where trains are, requiring more room between them. And when it fails, trains stop, delays pile up and riders fume.

NYC #SignalFails in 45 days

Every day, the MTA's 1930's era signal system delays New Yorkers on their way to work, school and picking up their kids from childcare. This map shows just some of the recent delays caused by signal failures across the five boroughs. Between October 7 and December 5,  there have been 311 signal failures, with an average of 32.3 failures per week.

Since the launch of the SignalFail website on November 20th 2017, approximately 43 million riders have been delayed as the result of signal failures that affected every single subway line in the City.  

43,424,817 RIDERS DelayeD

by signal failures since november 20th, 2017

Number of Signal Failures Per Week

As reported by @NYCTSubway

Data and Transparency 

This data is pulled on a weekly basis (on Mondays) from the the MTA's @NYCTSubway Twitter account. Twitter data, unfortunately, is the most comprehensive source of real-time data on subway delays and signal failures available online, making it nearly impossible for everyday riders to see how the agency is performing and hold it accountable. The MTA recently released a new dashboard that provides some data on "major incidents" (affected 50+ trains) caused by signals failures. However, the dashboard fails to provide reliable, up-to-date accounting of the volume and frequency of signal failures that delay trains across NYC every day.  

The Consensus on Signals

What should the MTA invest in first?

Opinion poll of over 1,500 people, conducted by Council Member Brad Lander's office in August 2017

According to the MTA's own, 20-year needs assessment, signal failure is the leading cause of subway delays. Research form the Regional Plan Association and the NYTimes make it clear that modernizing the signal system is essential to bring greater reliability, speed and capacity to the system. In a survey conducted by Council Member Lander's office in May 2017, 78% of over 1,500 survey takers said that modernizing the signal system should be the MTA's top signal priority.

Currently, more than half of subway lines are suitable or under development for improved transit signals. With improved signals: more trains can run, trains can run on time, there is increased communication, heightened safety, and up to 90% lower operations and maintenance costs.

But unfortunately, the MTA is doing nothing to expedite its plans to modernize our signals. While London and Paris are moving quickly to replace their signal systems, the MTA “plan” would take 50+ years. We can dramatically accelerate the pace: we could modernize half the system over the next decade (and the full system in two) -- but only if we have a real leadership commitment, and sufficient, dedicated funding. 

Earlier this year, the MTA announced its Genius Grant Challenge,  seeking groundbreaking proposals to modernize NYC's Subway Signal system. Riders would welcome innovative solutions to accelerate the deployment of modern train signaling technologies. But with upwards of 20 signal failures per week slowing down New Yorkers, riders cannot afford to "wait for something better to come along." The MTA needs to make a commitment to upgrade our signal system, today. 


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