M.T.A. to upgrade 7 line by trading old cars to Lexington Avenue

Inside a 7 train. (bitchcakesny via Flickr)
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There's a surprise in store for riders of the 7 train and the Lexington Avenue line.

By 2016, the year that the M.T.A. hopes to complete installation of a modern signaling system along the 7 line, the M.T.A. will have swapped out the line's cars for newer ones from the Lexington Avenue line, Capital has learned.

Some Lexington Avenue riders, meanwhile, will get stuck with the old 7 train cars. (The newest 7 cars have been in use for about 25 years.) The M.T.A. has yet to determine which of the three Lexington Avenue lines—the 4, 5, or 6—will be affected.

"Sometime prior to when it is turned on in 2016, you will start seeing the cars on the 7 move to the Lex and the cars on the Lex move to the 7," confirmed Adam Lisberg, a spokesman for the M.T.A.

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The reason for the change in 7 trains, and the resulting swap-out of cars on the Lex line, has to do with something called communications-based train control, or CBTC, the most modern signaling technology in a system that is more than 100 years old.

Thanks to that technology, the M.T.A. was able to increase train frequency on the congested L line this summer.

The 7 train will be the second subway line in the system to get CBTC.

In a recent letter, Thomas Prendergast, the head of the M.T.A.'s subway and bus operations division, New York City Transit, described CBTC as a radio-based communications system that allows control-room computers to "keep track of where all the trains are and tell the trains how far they can go, while the onboard computers calculate how fast the trains can go and tell the [computers] where the trains are at all times."

Unfortunately for Lexington Avenue line riders, the 7 train's existing cars, known as the R62s, are too antiquated to run on the new signaling system.

The Lexington Avenue line's R142As, however, can handle it.

It should be noted that when the M.T.A. moves the 7 trains to the Lexington Avenue line, it will not be doing any substantial rehab work on them.

"They’re not supposed to get a rip-it-down-to-the-bare-metal kind of work," said Lisberg, "They just get scheduled maintenance, preventive maintenance, to keep them in tip-top shape. They’re very reliable cars, they’ve worked out well, and there’s no plans to replace them anytime soon."

Despite the 7 train's relative age and relatively aged appearance, it scored better than the Lexington Avenue line on a recent advocacy group's report, which graded trains based on factors like regularity of service, cleanliness, breakdown rates and seat availability.

In the overall standings, the 7 ranked as the second-best train, the 6 train ranked as the sixth-best, and the 4 and 5 scored near the bottom. But announcements on the 7 train were much harder to hear.