A Great Big City

Checking in with Subway Countdown Clocks

Countdown Displays at Franklin Ave
Countdown Displays at Franklin Ave via dannyman on Flickr

Walking underground to board the subway can feel a bit intimidating, swiping your MetroCard after deciphering any notices taped to the walls around the station before you're cut off from surface-level life for the next hour or so. If you're near a station that has wireless access, you might retain a connection to the digital world, but all of us have still experienced the helplessness of standing on a subway platform, staring into the dark tunnel, attempting to wish the next train into existence.

The now-vintage LED countdown clocks or the new LCD signs can be a welcome sight that reassures you there will be a train here (eventually). But why has the rollout of subway countdown clocks taken so many years? Wired reports that only about one third of subway stations currently have countdowns, and recent upgrades are only being tested on the N / Q / R lines.

Clocks are on the agenda for a five-year, $26 billion plan, but as you can see from the astronomical price, those clocks will be part of a much larger upgrade for underground communications, which will make it possible for the MTA to acurately know where trains are within the system. This overhaul of the system will make it possible for more trains to run within the same stretch of track in addition to the added benefit of letting exasperated straphangers know when the next train will slide into the station. A transit system riding on 100-year-old infrastructure needs much more than a spare power outlet to add countdown clocks to our daily commute.

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