Just yesterday I was reading an article about SEPTA’s “nerve center” – although cool, I must admit that Metro-North’s Operations Control Center is far nicer – at least in my opinion. Though the SEPTA article states that “nothing like [this control center] exists in New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington, DC, or any other American city.” – it is really an argument of semantics – as the author makes the point that SEPTA’s control room monitors trolleys, trains and buses, and clearly Metro-North’s watches over just trains. But while their center is operated by a crew of three, Metro-North’s is staffed by many more. The control boards at the front and center of the room, however, are quite similar in both – and reading that article reminded me that not only have I not mentioned my visit to Metro-North’s Operations Control Center, I haven’t posted any photos of it either!
Back in the day, this stuff was considered state-of-the-art, and these were the people that watched over the railroad. Today, things are a bit more modern, and consolidated in a central location (no more towers – everything is controlled by the folks in the OCC).
For the record (and to my inevitable haters), the OCC is hardly a secret, especially when Metro-North themselves have posted photos of it online. And while I could say that I will not divulge the location of the OCC for security purposes, the New York Post has already spilled the beans that it is hidden in the upper floors of Grand Central Terminal. For additional security, I won’t even tell you how to decipher the large display boards – except for the fact that it, too has already been written about. And even WNYC has featured video on their website of the OCC… so I am hardly the first to offer a glimpse at the control center (or at least a realistic look at the OCC).
View of the old control center by user Triborough on Flickr.
The current OCC is relatively new, and you may recall Metro-North mentioning the updates back in 2010. If you compare the above photos with the new Operations Control Center, there is quite a big difference. The new facility is undeniably attractive, and far less antiquated looking than the previous.
Working out of the OCC are Metro-North’s Rail Traffic Controllers (or as they are more commonly known, RTC’s) – probably one of the most hectic (and thankless) jobs on the railroad. Besides monitoring where every Metro-North train is, and directing those trains when necessary, it is also their job to solve various issues that trains may encounter en route – like calling for police. I must take a moment here to thank Metro-North’s RTC’s for the work that they do – and especially for being quick with a call to police when there was a guy publicly masturbating on my train one evening (I wish I was kidding).
Metro-North’s system is divided up into various districts, each of which is monitored by a Rail Traffic Controller. The Harlem Line, for example, is split into Districts A (lower Harlem) and B (upper Harlem). The RTC watches over all trains in their district, which could be a hundred or more trains in an 8-hour shift. This includes Metro-North, Amtrak, or any other trains operating in that area, in revenue service or otherwise. All work on the tracks needs permission from the RTC, as to prevent any accidents from happening. While conductors are clearly the public face of Metro-North, a Rail Traffic Controller is generally someone you don’t see, but it is their job to keep you safe – passengers and employees alike.
Overlooking the OCC is Metro-North’s “Situation Room” – the place where all the important people would assemble during a major incident or emergency (some of our previous major snowstorms, and even Irene, warrant use of this room). Not only can you watch over the RTC’s in the control center through a handy window, the room is equipped with several televisions that show the departures on all three lines, train arrivals, and even a realtime map of train locations.
That’s about all I’ve got for today’s little tour of the Operations Control Center… now I’ve gotta go buy a particular RTC a cup of coffee! :D