Friday, September 23, 2005

New TA command center goes on fritz

New York Daily News -
New TA command center goes on fritz

Subway dispatchers at a 10-day-old, $200 million command center lost radio contact with all trains Tuesday - a troubling sign in the Transit Authority's effort to modernize the subways, critics charged yesterday.

A computer-based communications system operating out of the TA's new Rail Control Center in Manhattan at 10:20 a.m. became overwhelmed by the transmissions among dispatchers, train crews, cops and firefighters when a man jumped in front of a train in Queens, TA spokesman Charles Seaton said.

The old command center in Brooklyn spotted the problem, took over, and dispatchers there reestablished radio contact with all train operators in less than one minute, Seaton said.

It will be weeks before the new communications system, which went on line Sept. 10, is back in use, he said.

Seaton stressed safety was not compromised Tuesday because track signals and other critical equipment were not affected.

But critics - who oppose such high-tech TA plans as running trains by computers and taking conductors off trains - seized on the failure.

"When they can't handle something relatively simple like this, it makes people nervous to hear they want to have computers run trains," City Councilman John Liu (D-Queens) said.

Ed Watt, secretary-treasurer of Transport Workers Union Local 100, said, "Left to their own devices, they are capable of creating new disasters."

Seaton said the Rail Control Center - in the works for at least eight years - is behind schedule and will cost about $223 million when completed.

It eventually will be the technology hub for computer-controlled trains that, after delays, are slated to start on the L line later this year.

"When something is new, it's not going to operate 100% right out of the box," he said. "There are going to be problems and you have to learn from those problems. That's what we are doing."