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Meet The Signal Expert With The Plan To Fix NYC's Failing Subway System

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Calling him a necessary exception to the current hiring freeze, the MTA has hired an expert from outside the country to fix the city's beleaguered subway signal system.

He worked with New York's Transit Authority president, Andy Byford, in Toronto - where that city's subway system was reportedly turned around.

Signal problems plague the city's subways.

If you monitor the alerts on Twitter, you can see for yourself how poorly public transportation operates in the five boroughs, reported CBS2's Alice Gainer

"Sometimes signal, sometimes no clue, so it's really annoying," one commuter said.

"I would get to school like probably an hour late or something," another frustrated subway rider said.

"It is probably the most difficult challenge I've ever had. It's incredibly complicated and big," signal expert Peter Tomlin explained.

Tomlin is the man tasked with overseeing the re-signaling of the entire antiquated system.

Described by the MTA as an internationally renowned signaling expert, he has worked on the systems in Hong Kong, London, and Toronto.

Peter Tomlin (Credit: CBS2)

He described the big challenge for modernizing the trains in the city that never sleeps.

"Unlike almost all the systems in the world, we run 24/7 here. Most other systems take a break between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m."

As part of Byford's "fast forward plan," the city is installing communications based train control (CBTC).

Most of the system currently runs on fixed block signaling. The track is divided into blocks to keep trains a safe distance a part, but this doesn't give precise movement of trains.

CBTC technology allows them to see each train, track and control and adjust schedules based on what they see. This would reportedly make things very easy for the train operator.

"He just pushes the automatic button and then the train accelerates, travels to next station, slows down in line with the speed profile from the computer," Tomlin explained.

He says this allows for more trains an hour and a more regular service. A couple of lines have it so far, but the plan is to have 11 lines done in the next decade.

Tomlin says he's committed to seeing the overhaul through. The question is - will the money come in to do it all?

The fast forward plan is expected to cost $40 billion over the next decade, but it remains to be seen if all of that funding will come in.

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