Leveraging Technology to Improve America’s Transportation Infrastructure

Montrose-Brown Line mass transit wifiTransportation challenges often seem impossibly expensive to solve. For instance, accidents caused by driver error would seem to require costly solutions, such as extended employee training, and HR interventions. Capacity limits appear to demand major investments in system expansion. And it seems that America faces a huge upcoming bill for upgrading our aging transportation infrastructure. Yet more and more transit leaders are positing that technology can solve some of these problems without requiring an enormous investment.

WiFi adoption is one of several technological advances that are driving progress in American transportation. Let’s take a look at how technology, including mass transit WiFi, can help address some of our nation’s more complex transportation challenges.

Automatic Train Supervision: Preventing Crashes, Tracking Trains in Real Time.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) recently upgraded its train control system, typically considered to be the largest in the world, with 220 trains running simultaneously at rush hour. The MTA supports NYC subways using Automatic Train Supervision (ATS) technology. ATS includes automated traffic control, wayside signaling, automatic vehicle identification, and integrated voice/data communication. The new MTA system will allow operators to track trains in real time, for more accurate passenger information and improved coordination.

Overall, ATS is one aspect of ATC, Automatic Train Control. ATC can also include ATP, Automatic Train Protection, which can prevent crashes by limiting speed. Oftentimes, ATP systems automatically apply train breaks if the train exceeds the maximum allowed speed for more than two seconds. ATC systems may communicate through WiFi signals, fixed antenna, coded track circuits, or induction loops.

Maximizing Capacity through Technological Innovations

Light prioritization, also known as traffic signal preemption, changes traffic signals to allow certain vehicles through. GPS signals may communicate with traffic lights, or a vehicle operator may push a certain button to keep the oncoming light green. Light prioritization can speed commute times by limiting the amount of time riders must wait at traffic signals. San Antonio’s Primo rapid transit service currently uses GPS-based light prioritization to keep its high-speed commuter buses flowing through traffic. Similarly, Tyler, Texas recently installed signal coordination software that adjusts light patterns for current traffic conditions. As a result, travel delays in the city have been reduced by 49%.

Train and bus Wifi systems can also maximize capacity by improving system-wide coordination in other ways. As we highlighted in a post last month, the new PATH Control Train Center in New York City will boost system capacity by 20%, partially through longer trains and platforms, but also through system-wide communication. In the new PATH center, workers can monitor the entire 43 miles of track in the system via energy fluctuation tracking. This allows staff to schedule trains to run with less headway. Previously, passengers were used to a ten-minute gap between trains. Technology in the new control center will allow trains to run with just four minutes of headway.

By sidestepping the need to rebuild entire transit infrastructures, train and bus WiFi systems can evolve operations and improve the transportation experience. The Business Roundtable, a group of leading U.S. CEOs, calls this new approach “hybrid infrastructure,” with technology as the hybrid element, maximizing infrastructure. Transit bus WiFi and other technological innovations can improve current transportation systems without requiring exorbitant overhauls.

[Photo by Tripp via CC License]