Almost there: N/R subway line is about to get some experimental countdown clocks

Experimental countdown clock at 28th Street. (Joseph Rappaport.)
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Anxiety-prone riders along the N and R lines are finally getting some attention.

Starting a few days ago, the M.T.A. began programming countdown clocks at the line's 14th, 23rd and 28th Street stations as part of a pilot program.

Countdown clocks don't make trains come faster, but they do make subway riding a less imprecise exercise by giving straphangers some sense of what they're in for. They're widely used in other subway systems and have been a stated M.T.A. priority for a while now.

During his 2009 M.T.A. Senate confirmation hearings, then-soon-to-be chairman Jay Walder promised to prioritize countdown clocks for all subways and buses, arguing that a clockless subway was "simply not the way to operate a 21st-century transit system."

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"In New York we have a system where we walk down the stairs, walk up to the platform, look over it to see if there's a white light, and if we see a white light, hope it's not a reflection," said Walder.

In 2009, the M.T.A. announced that the agency would install countdown clocks at about 150 stations along the numbered lines at a cost of $200 million.

M.T.A. spokesman Charles Seaton says all of those clocks, which use something called the Automatic Train Supervision system, have since been installed.

The letter lines haven't fared as well.

In 2010, the Daily News reported that the M.T.A's financial instability had prompted Walder to explore cheaper solutions for the letter lines.

One such solution, being tested on parts of A/C line and the F, uses track circuits to relay train information.

The system the M.T.A. is piloting along the N/R, known as Optical Character Recognition Technology, uses cameras to take pictures of subway car numbers and then passes them through to the countdown clocks, which will show time approximations.

"The test has not officially started," said Seaton. "We are still working with the vendors to properly configure the software that produces the audio and visual countdown messages."

Asked when they would be turned on at the three N/R stations, Seaton said, "It’s going to be fairly soon."