APTA | Passenger Transport
June 22, 2009

In This Issue


Balancing New Technologies with Old Infrastructure
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor

Staying current with technology is a challenge for any public transportation system, but it’s especially difficult for a transit agency with an extensive built infrastructure that requires retrofitting to make the job work.

“When we think of new technology, we look at it with optimism,” said moderator Jonathan H. McDonald, chair of the APTA Research and Technology Committee and principal-managing leader of Stantec Consulting Inc., during a June 15 session at the APTA Rail Conference “But when we have to implement that new technology in an existing infrastructure, we face challenges.”

Herb Nitz, manager, communications engineering and development, for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), presented an overview of installing advanced communications technologies in a century-old rail transit system.

CTA built its first elevated line in 1892, and that line is still in operation; the newest El route, the Orange Line, entered service in 1993. Most of the agency’s elevated and subway lines opened in the 1940s and 1950s, Nitz said, meaning that the telephone and public address technologies serving the lines date back to the 1950s.

When CTA began instituting newer technologies—installing the first multiplexed communications on the O’Hare Extension in 1984, the first optical system on the Orange Line at the time of its opening, and expanding fiber optic use during the 1996 rehabilitation of the Green Line—“we took stock of what we had to provide state-of-the-art communications infrastructure that supports all voice, data, and video needs of the CTA,” Nitz explained. “We needed the communications system to be reliable, redundant, innovative, scalable, able to adjust to and take advantage of new technologies, maximize investment, and minimize operating and maintenance costs.”

Today, CTA has installed fiber optics in all 144 of its rail stations, but the agency isn’t finished yet. “Now we’re looking at advanced systems we would never have dreamed of five years ago,” Nitz said, such as a closed circuit television/security network and a wireless video network that now also incorporates the more than 12,000 security cameras on CTA’s bus fleet.

Ron Keppel of Emcom Systems used the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s (SEPTA) emergency call box modernization project in Philadelphia as an example of the implementation of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) communications. Because the exterior call boxes were still in good shape and expensive to replace, SEPTA chose a multiple-step process of upgrading the internal circuits and creating a VoIP-based system similar to a local area network.

“At this juncture, there are over 400 emergency call boxes and wayside phones connected to the SEPTA system, and that’s just the beginning,” Keppel said. “Once the VoIP network is in place, it will be relatively easy to add on to it: cashier booth intercoms; elevator phones; a new public address system and radio; and a video controller.”

Stephen Rayment, chief technology officer for BelAir Networks, reported on the incorporation of his firm’s wireless technologies into trains, stations, and rail yards. He pointed to the growing prevalence of personal wireless electronic devices and how it has led to widespread interest in WiFi opportunities on board rail vehicles and in stations.

“Originally, riders were interested in accessing the Internet on the train,” Rayment noted. “Now, there’s so much more: on-train ticketing and, seat reservations, working with conductors equipped with handheld devices; train mechanical telematics and diagnostics; driver performance monitoring; even car location tracking along line and in train yards.”

Increased rider safety is another benefit of this technology, according to Rayment: real-time closed circuit television; radiation, chemical, and smoke sensors; and improved intercom connections.

Michael Fitzmaurice, MASC, P.E., senior communications/communications-based train control engineer for Parsons Corporation, described the impact of underground distributed antenna systems for wireless communications. Transit tunnels provide limited space for underground antennas, he said, as well as external threats such as water leaks.

Fitzmaurice presented an overview of the different antenna technologies and how they could work for various transit applications.


Participants in the "Implementing New Technology in Older Infrastructure" session are, from left, moderator Jonathan H. McDonald, Michael Fitzmaurice, Herb Nitz, Ron Keppel, and Stephen Rayment.
Photo by Brian Oh

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