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Subway delays, signal shortages can be improved with more magnetic wands, Cuomo says

The wands are used to clean steel dust on the tracks that can impact the antiquated signal system.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the MTA has ordered

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the MTA has ordered an additional 700 magnetic wands, which are key in removing dust on the tracks which contribute to signal problems. Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz-Gordon

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is banking on new magnetic wands as part of the solution for the MTA’s dreaded signal problems.

The governor hopes the wands, in the process of being purchased through the transit authority’s $836 million Subway Action Plan, will improve the process of cleaning steel dust that accumulates on the tracks when a train’s brakes are applied. The dust can have a big impact on the MTA’s antiquated signal system, which serve as the traffic lights of the subways, Cuomo said.

Dust can spark an unintended electrical connection, which the signal system could interpret as a train. That would trigger a red signal, holding up service until the track was inspected. Cuomo said the wands will “greatly accelerate” the process of cleaning tracks’ insulated joints, the points of electrical connection on the tracks.

“The signals and the tracks are the greatest number of problems on the system and part of it is the insulated joints which then trigger the signals malfunction,” said Cuomo, who demonstrated the wands’ use to reporters on the work tracks below Sunset Park’s Ninth Avenue station on Thursday. “Why do they malfunction? Because over time dust builds up, metal shavings build up and they actually trip the circuit on the joint.”

The MTA already has 300 of these magnetic wands, and is in the process of ordering another 700 for a total of 1,000. The authority did not immediately respond to questions related to the cost of buying the wands, or details on the manufacturer.

Cuomo said the authority will be able to clean all of its 11,000 “priority” insulated joints — half of the total number of insulated joints in the system — by the end of this November. And the time it will take to overhaul the 286 documented insulated joint defects will be halved, from 50 weeks to 25 weeks.

Andy Byford, the MTA’s transit president, said the MTA’s ultimate goal will be replacing what is a 19th-century signal system with a modern, computerized equivalent that can track each train’s precise movements — and rid the system of such signal problems. Cuomo has pressured the MTA to make the upgrade within an eight-year period.

“One thing for the future that will make a real difference, and I’ve spoken about it regularly, is a move to a modern signaling system,” Byford said. “A: because that gives us more capacity. But, B: it inherently gives us better reliability.”