MBTA Operations Control Center Undergoes $6 Million Upgrade

More screens, fewer problems.

Photo by Steve Annear

Photo by Steve Annear

Come New Year’s Eve, when thousands of people pack the platforms and MBTA trains to get in and out of the city for the midnight celebrations, the “brains” behind the transit agency’s entire operations will be ready for nearly anything to happen.

On Monday, MassDOT officials showed off $6 million of upgrades recently made to the MBTA Operations Control Center on High Street near South Station, an expansive room of gadgetry where workers attentively sit behind desks and monitor dozens of large screens displaying blinking and flashing lights, and scan live feeds coming in from the hundreds of cameras that hang above riders’ heads at various stops, showing what’s happening along the tracks.

The overhaul, which included the installation of new HDTV screens with optimal imagery and supporting software, an upgraded internal network that allows employees manning the stations to handle more tasks than the previous operating system, and a brand new setup for the Transit Police officers tracking activity from the headquarters, was paid for through grant funding from the Department of Homeland Security. Officials said the equipment installation took five months, and wrapped up in late October.

“This is the brains of the entire operation,” said Randy Clarke, MassDOT’s senior director of security, stressing the importance of the significant behind-the-scenes changes to the control room and its computer system. “We gave it a brain upgrade. The people in here is what makes the brain work, but we gave them more technical and software capabilities for how to handle emergencies and regular service. It’s much more sophisticated.”

The Operations Control Center, located on the eighth floor of the transportation building, is a space daily riders rarely get a glimpse of, but it’s there that employees coordinate with the inspectors and operators out on the system to adjust time schedules and assist with any emergency-related action that might require the attention of the Transit Police.

“They are dealing with very rapid fire tactical issues all day long,” said Clarke. “They have to be on-point all day long.”

And the upgrades will help them do that, he said.

Along a curved stretch of wall that resembles something NASA specialists might use as ground control when launching a rocket into space, screens display passengers boarding trains at the T’s rapid transit stops. There are also views of the trains—the Red, Orange, and Blue Lines on one part of the digital wall, and the Green Line on the other—as they move from stop-to-stop in real-time. With the new software, transit officials can choose what they want to appear in front of them, swapping in a Twitter live feed to monitor rider complaints, or pulling up news coverage on TV as necessary—whatever makes monitoring activity easiest for those behind the control boards.

“What this system allows us to do is, it allows us to build a customized layout on this wall,” said Todd Johnson, the T’s chief transportation officer, referencing the span of screens buzzing with images and maps of the train system. “Before it was fixed—what you saw is what you got. Now we can sit down and pick camera views, wall layout, and create a customized layout for any event.”

Johnson said they now have “10 times” the amount of video displays at the control center than they did with the older system, with clearer shots of passengers, which will especially help during annual events that attract larger crowds, such as First Night on New Year’s Eve, and the St. Patrick’s Day parade.

“It helps us react faster and better manage any situation,” he said. “It’s better decision making” and improves communications with operators.

Photo by Steve Annear

Photo by Steve Annear

Photo by Steve Annear

Photo by Steve Annear

 

  • ebviewer

    So this explains why T services has become so bad recently … money not well spent

    • Jorno

      never well spend with mbta.

  • Pazziac

    Certainly looks like plenty of real-time train location information is available. I hope that means we won’t keep hearing that they can’t provide real-time train locations for the green line. I’m getting sick of that lie.

    • dianne9836

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    • djimpact1

      Pazziac, it’s no “lie”. If you did a little research, you’d understand that the Green Line has a completely different signal system than the other 3 transit lines (due to being the oldest), and therefore must be treated differently. Red/Orange/Blue have track circuit occupancy information systems, whereas Green doesn’t.

      To counteract this, the T has begun installing AVI (automatic vehicle indicators) at various points in the subway tracks to eventually help provide underground Green Line tracking (whereas there is already above-ground GPS tracking now on the Green Line).

      Enclosing, because the Green Line is the oldest system using a very non-current signal system compared to the other 3 subway lines, the MBTA did not “lie” when they said they couldn’t provide tracking…their efforts on current above-ground tracking & soon-to-be available underground tracking will help close the gap on arrival time info.

      But I guess it was easier for you to dump all over the T like most elitist riders do who think, “It’s a train & it’s 2014, so it should do what I want”.

      • ebviewer

        You’re obviously being defensive for some reason. Even though the shortcomings you cite may be issues, the Green line is also managed by a series of clipboards, manual switches and traffic lights. 8 minute waits during rush hours, and so-called “schedule adjustments” are not acceptable for a rapid transit system.

        • djimpact1

          It’s not being defensive…it’s called stating the facts, something which many other people seem to get defensive themselves about hearing.

          You’re right, there are also manual switches & lights, but they go hand-in-hand with the overall dated signal system. Does it need updating? Absolutely…will it happen? Not as long as the T is still stuck with the Big Dig debt placed on its back, thanks to the state’s ridiculous decision to do so.

          There are definite scenarios that are inconvenient to some riders, but it’s insane to think the T (or any transit system for that matter) will ever be without problems. Riders need to get off their throne & finally accept that…otherwise, feel free to get a car and hold yourself responsible for your travel, rather than dumping on the T (because it’s easier to call them out on their shortcomings).

          • ebviewer

            I’m dumping on the poor customer service and high cost of mismanagement, and obvious overstaffing for a crumbling infrastructure.

    • Jorno

      nope

  • Jorno

    waste of taxpayer money. MBTA is garbage. So is this project. Cheap equipment, cheap everything.