Thursday, July 30, 2015

New York Subway System Infrastructure

Slate provides here a link to a video on the machines used to operate the New York subway system.  Much of this equipment dates to the first half of the 20th century.  It's a great video.   I had read about some of this before but never in this much detail.

The Slate columnist refers to this equipment "delightful, sure, but also deeply baffling."  I think that this view misses a few points.  First, modern computer equipment isn't always reliable in many aspects, ranging from computer security to electromigration.  Second, much computer equipment isn't designed to last more than a few years.  Replacing computers regularly is OK for data centers but it just doesn't work for a lot of infrastructure.  Infrastructure has to be built to operate safely and reliably for years.  Unfortunately, the computer industry isn't very good at designing things that last.

I find the video's discussion of the old-fashioned signaling system to be much more important than the age of the wires and relays.  The old equipment can't identify the location of a train very accurately, which means that trains have to be spaced farther apart.  One of the important benefits of new equipment and control system---known as CBTC---will be more efficient transit thanks to better location and control.

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