Commuters riding the Port Authority’s PATH system are familiar with a myriad of reasons for delayed trains from track problems to balky trains to that maddening unattended package.
But commuters are now experiencing a new reason for delays that might sound more like an error message from a laptop and it has to do with PATH’s 21st Century signal system that is supposed to wring extra capacity out of the system by allowing trains to run closer.
On Tuesday, commuters were told “network communications problems” was the reason for what turned into an almost three-hour delay. The same problem was blamed for delays that only lasted for 40 minutes Wednesday morning. But PATH had similar problems on Jan. 17, Jan. 15 and on Jan. 7 and 6, according to agency alerts.
“It usually means there is an issue with our Communications Based Train Control system (CBTC),” said Scott Ladd, a Port Authority spokesman.
CBTC is the new signal system that started to be installed in 2018 to replace the worn out early 20th century signal system. This system uses a network of computers on and off trains that allows trains to “communicate” their locations with each other. That allows PATH to run more trains as frequently as every three minutes.
Construction crews are replacing temporary signals with permanent signals which will result in suspending service on the 33rd Street line this weekend.
PATH suspended service on the 33rd Street line in 2016 to allow installation of Positive Train Control, a federally mandated safety system, which includes installing some CBTC signals.
“This is the railway signaling program that is in wide use throughout our system that manages digital communications between track equipment and trains. In most cases, any network problem is usually resolved quickly,” Ladd said.
That is the ideal situation, however, on Tuesday, network communication problems caused delays for three hours, until officials found the problem was due to one train, which was taken out-of-service.
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