Mixed Signals

City Promises No Driverless Trains, but Sets Track for Automatic Subway

"The first step will be fewer conductors," says Sullivan, who now works as a private CBTC consultant for Transportation Systems Design in San Francisco. "The Parisian metro as it modernizes is going to have more and more driverless lines. It will come more slowly in New York, but in time you'll see driverless trains. Not in the near-term. But eventually it's got to happen."

On New York's newest trains, onboard computers already diagnose mechanical problems without taking cars out of service. Almost replaced by prerecorded voices, conductors only announce stops when the tapes fail or the route changes. The next series of trains, the 100 R143s Kawasaki is manufacturing at its Yonkers plant for $190 million, is designed specifically to work with CBTC.

In fact, the entire design of the new generation of trains, called New Millennium Subway Cars by the MTA, articulates a corporate view of the new millennium: bright, visible, transparent, convenient, efficient, automated. As the trains arrive, their rusted Redbird predecessors will be sunk to the bottom of the sea to bolster the New York-New Jersey barrier reef, attracting an eternity of parasites and scum and predators to remind them of their pasts in the tunnels.

Automated for the people: "In time you'll see driverless trains," says one consultant.
photo: Jennifer S. Altman
Automated for the people: "In time you'll see driverless trains," says one consultant.

We'll have to wait to see what happens to the workers.

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