Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes to get your train to your destination? Before 2018, individual, remote block towers controlled train movement through interlockings (how trains move from one track to another), including signals and switches. Starting in 2018, operations began migrating into a central room known as the Jamaica Central Control. We chatted with Russ Auerbach and Stan Voykov, two of LIRR’s Signals and Train Control (STC) experts, to learn more about this work and what these lasting modernization efforts mean for your commute.
Outreach Team: Thanks for “sitting down” with us. What can you tell us about Jamaica Central Control (JCC)?
STC: Built in 2018, JCC is a single room where operators control and monitor train movements throughout parts of the LIRR system. JCC houses the brains of the railroad – not only the operators, but also engineers and experts in signal control, power, and the public information office. It’s also the backroom for Positive Train Control (PTC), a critical safety component for the LIRR.
Outreach Team: Why are we moving to centralized control in Jamaica Central Control?
STC: Right now, throughout the system, there are a lot of moving parts. Migration into JCC allows the LIRR to manage the entire system from Jamaica. With these changes, the entire controls system will be streamlined, allowing it to be operated and accessed via one single, centralized platform.
Outreach Team: How is the migration to JCC occurring?
STC: It’s a long process, as block towers (sometimes referred to as interlocking towers) throughout the entire LIRR system are migrated one by one. On the Main Line, Queens Tower just east of Queens Village Station and Nassau Tower in Mineola are examples of these block towers. These block towers cover the controls, signals, and communications for an individual area or territory and allow for the safe movement of trains
Outreach Team: Cool! What is the current status of the control systems for the Main Line?
STC: All Main Line control systems have been migrated to the new operating system. The controls that were previously based out of Queens Tower are now out of Jamaica. We’re excited that as of May 9, 2020, Nassau Tower was migrated to the new operating system. To mitigate the impacts of COVID-19, operators temporarily worked out of Nassau Tower. The new system is great because it can be mimicked on any screen, so while our operators couldn’t physically work out of JCC until July 11, they were still able to use the upgraded operating system from Nassau Tower.
Outreach Team: What went into this achievement?
STC: This entire process involved extensive planning and coordination with the rest of the corridor. First, we worked on design, factory acceptance testing, and field installations, and then moved to field testing. Before the migration of Nassau Tower controls to Jamaica, between February and May of 2020, we tested to ensure all the controls and indications could be up and running concurrently with the track modernization work happening on the Main Line. Once we were confident it was ready to go, on May 9, 2020, the system went live.
Outreach Team: Last time we talked, you mentioned how you are upgrading the signal and switch infrastructure from copper to fiber optic cables. Now, we’re talking about JCC. Do the two have anything in common?
STC: The ongoing cable work is not needed for the Jamaica Control migration, but is necessary for the interlocking work, which will follow. We’re working in phases, first comes the controls, the “user interface” between the system and the operator. After that, the interlockings and related electronics are installed, ensuring safe operations. Both systems work together. The fiber optic cable system will go in service as the interlockings are updated.
Outreach Team: What is the proposed timeline for the JCC migration?
STC: The entire JCC migration is years in the making. We’re proud to say the Main Line is there. More branches will be moving in the next two to five years. Ultimately, the entire LIRR system will get on board.
Outreach Team: Looking at the bigger picture, how will this migration lead to a better commute for the region?
STC: If a train is stuck on the Main Line, with only two tracks, it becomes difficult for trains to pass, leading to a bottleneck and cascading delays. The third track will allow trains to bypass the disruption easier. Since we now have all the necessary experts in the JCC, we can ensure that with any service disruption, there is a faster decision-making process to fix the situation. And timelier customer alerts! This isn’t just for Main Line customers. Once the entire system moves to JCC, all LIRR commuters can expect a better commute.
Outreach Team: Sounds helpful. Anything else you’d like to add?
STC: We want to express immense appreciation for our coworkers behind the scenes who work to resolve issues quickly and effectively, ensuring small service disruptions don’t escalate. And we’re very proud of the team’s accomplishment of migrating all Main Line controls to Jamaica. Since 40% of trains pass through the Main Line, this is a major milestone.
Outreach Team: Wow, thank you for sharing your insight and knowledge with us. We can now tell commuters that the Main Line has a new centralized control system. Or shall we say… “user interface!” Congratulations to you and your teams.
Nassau Tower (left) in Mineola and its control panel (right) from the 90s, used to control trains on the Main Line, have been phased out and consolidated into Jamaica Central Control.
Jamaica Central Control in action. After the entire JCC migration is complete, control systems for all LIRR branches will be centralized here.
The JCC screens also show real time footage of the train platforms, so that operators can monitor loading and unloading of trains. This ensures that problems are observed quickly, and crowd control measures are implemented if necessary.