Date: May 16, 2001
Press Release Number: 74-2001
Most riders on the PATH rapid transit system have never heard of Ira Ross. Yet, if it wasn’t for the job Mr. Ross has done behind the scenes for the past 34 years, these 260,000 weekday PATH commuters probably would not experience the reliable trip they do today.
Ross’s job is to make sure PATH’s signal system – the lifeblood of the rapid transit system – remains in a state of good repair. That’s no easy chore considering that PATH has hundreds of signals throughout its system that control train movements. If the signals are not maintained properly, the trains will grind to a halt.
PATH Director/General Manager Michael P. DePallo said, “Ira is representative of our many unsung heroes whose efforts, although invisible to the public, allow us to operate a safe, efficient transit system. His creative thinking and knowledge of the system help him keep our signal system in great shape.”
The entire PATH signal system is being replaced and modernized, a $250 million project that is one of the improvements to be funded by the new toll and fare structure that took effect on March 25. For now, it is up to Mr. Ross to see that the existing system keeps PATH trains running smoothly.
Maintaining the signal system is no easy chore considering that the majority of the system is more than 30 years old, while some components have been around for up to 90 years.
“I don’t think most people have any idea about the function of railroad signals,” said Mr. Ross, who is in charge of PATH’s signal shop where PATH employees rebuild and tests signal equipment. “The only time most people know about signals and what we do is when there are problems.”
Mr. Ross, a resident of Queens Village, N.Y., began his PATH career in 1967, shortly after serving for three years in the U.S. Army. At the time, he was looking for a job and didn’t know much about PATH.
Mr. Ross’s first job was as a “signal helper,” in which he worked the midnight shift rebuilding, cleaning, painting and installing signal equipment, and changing light bulbs in the signals. The following year, Mr. Ross was promoted to Signal Repairman I, in which he inspected and repaired signals and performed monthly tests on the system.
In 1978, he was promoted to Signal Foreman I and put in charge of a crew of signal repairmen who responded to reports of malfunctioning equipment. He also handled other responsibilities, such as payroll, safety and work reports, and the procurement of equipment for the repairmen.
In 1994, Mr. Ross was elevated to his current job as supervisor of PATH’s signal shop in Jersey City, N.J., supervising a staff of five repairmen.
In his spare time, Mr. Ross enjoys photography. He has photographed many special occasions on PATH over the past 10 years, including retirements of coworkers.
The Port Authority plans to replace its signal system in the next six or seven years, but Mr. Ross, 55, probably won’t be around to see it. He plans to retire after another year.