MTA announces winners of ‘Genius Challenge’

Winners of the Genius Challenge were announced with $1 million rewards for proposals to modernize the subways.
Photo by Michael Shain
By Mark Hallum

Winners were announced for the MTA’s Genius Challenge to award companies and individuals with $1 million for proposals to modernize the city’s ailing subway system earlier this month.

Among the winners are international transportation companies and individuals who offered fresh ideas to bring the failure-prone signal systems and cars into the digital age.

“A modern signal system is the key to running more trains, to driving up reliability and to increasing network capacity,” said Andy Byford, New York City Transit president. “I have directed my staff to research and engage in all of these ideas, whether it is ultra-wideband technology or new installation techniques. But we cannot rest on the laurels of these winners, which is why the MTA and the Partnership for New York City are launching the Transit Innovation Partnership, a public-private collaboration dedicated to bringing new ideas, resources, and expertise to support the MTA’s mission.”

Metrom Rail and engineer Robert James both won the award to improve signals by proposing ultra-wideband wireless technology to replace the current signal system developed around the turn of the century. The UWB technology can locate trains down to the centimeter and would replace the cumbersome equipment currently in use.

Ansaldo STS and Thales Group also won the signals category by proposing the use of onboard sensors and cameras for train positioning.

“People from around the world delivered groundbreaking solutions that truly represent a new wave of innovation for the MTA, and we are more excited than ever about the future of New York Subways,” MTA Chairman Joe Lhota said.

CRRC, a Chinese company, offered to develop train cars made with lighter material in a modular design by investing $50 million of its own money in the project.

Craig Avedisian is a lawyer who moonlights as a transit enthusiast and proposed using longer trains and new unloading procedures to speed up the process of commuting.

CSinTrans proposed using software to detect possible issues with equipment by constantly running diagnostic checks and alerting work crews before failures occur.

Bechtel Innovation proposed using robotic technology to upgrade communications and control infrastructure and will use $500,000 of its award to invest in launching the idea.

“New York is committed to growing a robust economy supported by diverse, livable communities. Our ability to get people where they need to go quickly, safely, and efficiently is vital to that mission. The subway system is the economic engine of New York City and the metropolitan region, and today’s winning submissions to the Genius Challenge will help modernize our aging infrastructure and support a 21st century subway system for a 21st century economy,” said Empire State Development Corporation President Howard Zemsky.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched the Genius Challenge in June 2017 as a series of a catastrophic failure in the system as well as a train derailment in Harlem brought the city transit situation to the point where urgent action was required.

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhallum@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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