By Philip Catalanotto
Seventeen years ago, New York City Transit took on the monumental task of bringing the subway system into the 21st century by modernizing and computerizing the subways. Transit moved from a system of little lights on a control board that signaled when a train was coming to a computerized system that monitors the trains and the flow of traffic.
The net result has been the creation of a half-billion-dollar Rail Control Center (RCC) where a dedicated group of railroad professionals oversees the conditions of the rail system, makes adjustments as necessary, and informs the public regarding safety and service.
Borne out of this effort were two major systems: Automatic Train Supervision (ATS) and the Pubic Address/Customer Information Screen (PA/CIS).
In order for the ATS system to become a reality, Transit employees had to physically rewire hundreds of miles of tracks and replace dozens of interlocks (switch tracks) with newer ones that are capable of being remotely controlled by a computer. Since safety is always the first concern, the signaling system had to be upgraded and interfaced as well. The signaling system provides traffic lights for the motormen to observe, just as drivers of cars must obey traffic signals.
Since ATS knows where the trains are at all times, the natural extension of this system is to be able to provide information to the riding public so that they know when the trains are arriving at their station. This is where the PA/CIS system comes in.
Timely Public Announcements on Train Service
The PA/CIS in simplest terms consists of “countdown clocks.” On these electronic signboards, passengers will see the train line, its destination, and the predicted time to departure. For visually impaired customers, this information is also presented via pre-recorded audio announcements. In addition to this base-line information, people in the RCC can send out audio and visual messages informing customers about service disruptions and alternate travel routes. Currently, this system is installed in the 156 stations for the numbered lines of the subway.
Gerald Catalanotto is one of the key designers and maintainers of the PA/CIS system. During an interview he shared information about how he came to work at NYCT, what he does, and what he sees as the future of this system.
“ It is a wonderful feeling to be part of a team which is bringing this much-needed technology to the people of the city of New York,” he said.
After 25 years of developing software in the private sector, Gerald joined NYCT as a systems analyst during the design and implementation of this system. Day to day, Gerald keeps an eye on the system from the RCC and is ready to respond to any emergency that might arise. He teaches new users how to interact with the system and is working on extending the system to cover the other 313 stations of the lettered lines of the New York City Subway System. This will take at least five years.
A new exciting thing he is working on, he added, is bringing the subway arrival information to the web so you will be able to access it with your smart phone. Mr. Catalanotto said that this is the most fun he ever had “playing with trains.”