Working On The Railroad

For just under two years now, the railway transfer station in Secaucus, NJ-standing about 10 minutes from New York City's Penn Station-has tied together all of the state's lines. Before the station was built, rail lines were divided between the Newark and Broad Street terminals. The subsequent job of tying all the announcements, sound and display together was left to Dave Rountree, senior audio engineer, passenger communications technologies for New Jersey Transit, along with an arsenal of Harman Pro equipment.

A system-wide upgrade project is underway at New Jersey Transit, the third largest transit corporation in the nation (as far as capital and number of passengers moved), to unite about 90 key stations under upgraded PA and dynamic signage systems that can be controlled by a common data source fed from the control center for each rail division.

The hub in Secaucus has 32 audio zones with two amps for each zone. A Sabine SW-7000 2.4GHz wireless receiver is mounted in the control room. "It was the shortest distance for running the co-ax to external antennas out in the bus lanes area," Rountree said.

A facility-wide WiFi network was installed to verify information from approaching trains. "The brain of the whole thing utilizes the AMX control format and BSS Soundweb 9001 processors," Rountree said. "The message comes in, software identifies which zones a message has to go to, it goes into the processor and opens the proper routing for it. We have an average of 232 messages every 20 minutes. We only have four discrete inputs going into the system from this."

Normally there is a discrete input for every announcement source, but with nine major rail lines coming through, the Secaucus station pushed the limits for DSP in the system. "The amps still have DSP left in the cards but the BSS Soundweb had no more network DSP," he said. "I called BSS and said, 'Give me a box of DSP,' and they thought I was crazy. They said no one's ever used all the DSP, I said, 'Well, mark this up.'" There are three layers of redundancy in the program so if the processor drops out, everything is rerouted through the remaining processor.

The biggest challenge for Rountree was the rotunda in the station's central meeting point. "If I could have put a single speaker at the very top pointing down, it would have solved everything," he said. But those looking out for architectural and aesthetic interests wouldn't support it. So the sound is ambient with the rotunda covered by a perimeter of JBL 25AV speakers.

Another architectural situation to contend with were the areas on the platforms with no overhang and no infrastructure to hang speakers. Shortly after Rountree spoke to people at JBL about it, the Control 29AV came out designed for that very situation. "We mounted a pair of those at the end of each platform angled up above the heads. It comfortably covers the rest of the platform that isn't covered."

The dynamic signs are fed by a server in the data center upstairs. All the dynamic signs are Samsung large-screen LCD displays fed by fiber. "All the data that's fed to the signs and to the PA originates in the rail operations center in Kearney, NJ," Rountree said.

Middle Atlantic custom-designed the display enclosures, each of which also houses a UPS, a computer and climate control.
More than 1,000 feet of copper was converted to fiber for audio distribution. A BSS Soundweb 9010 Jellyfish Remote Controller enables zone selection for announcements from remote locations.

Crown PZM-11 ambient sensors are on every platform, one for each zone. As a train pulls through the station, the system gradually increases the announcement volume to keep it 3dB above the background noise. "The system has been pushing 112 dB and it's only advertised to do 104dB," Rountree said. "When a train is going through it peaks up around 110dB." The volume of both announcements and background music, fed by the Quebbie background music system, is increased.

With security a primary consideration for such an important public transportation hotspot, the AV and security systems at Secaucus were integrated to maximize communication. "CCTV systems are not only capable of video recording at 30 frames/second, they're also recording audio," Rountree said. Law enforcement officials have access to the WiFi network such that an officer can bring up any specific camera in the facility on a Palm Pilot or Blackberry. If there's a situation, they can interface with the PA system either through an operator or by picking a pre-selected announcement to be made.