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Worsening subway service is one of the many infrastructure challenges confronting the region, including recent commuting upheavals at Pennsylvania Station in New York. New York’s quest to install the new system began in 1991, after a subway derailment at Union Square in Manhattan killed five people.

As ridership exploded on the L line, which runs between Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan, the agency did not have enough train cars built to communicate with the new signals.“It took way too long, but it was a confluence of things that made it take a while,” said Richard Barone, a vice president at the Regional Plan Association, an urban policy group that has studied New York’s signals. 7 line work in 2010, but Hurricane Sandy struck two years later, damaging subway tracks and delaying the project.

And officials have been reluctant to frustrate riders by halting train service for long stretches, leaving workers with few windows to finish the work, Mr. Then there is the constant uncertainty over the authority’s finances.

The London Underground, known as the Tube, opened in 1863 and is the oldest subway system in the world.

It now carries about five million people each day, its highest ridership ever.

At the current pace, transforming every subway line could take half a century and cost $20 billion.

The signal system is the hidden, unglamorous backbone of the subway, controlling when trains can move down the tracks.

“We have to find a way to shorten that.”New York’s more than century-old subway has been essential to the city’s growth, but there is increasing alarm that after years of progress, the system is sliding backward.

To accommodate the nearly six million riders who take the subway on weekdays — the highest level since the 1940s — the authority is spending billions of dollars on new stations and more spacious trains.

Most of New York’s subway system still relies on antiquated technology, known as block signaling, to coordinate the movement of trains. C., is more dependable and exact, making it possible to reduce the amount of space between trains. More than 25 years later, the authority has little to show for its effort to install modern signals.

A modern system, known as communications-based train control, or C. The L line began using computerized signals in 2009 after about a decade of work. 7, should have received new signals last year, but the project was delayed until the end of this year. It requires installing transponders every 500 feet on the tracks, along with radios and zone controllers, and buying new trains or upgrading them with onboard computers, radios and speed sensors.

State and city leaders feuded over the agency’s current capital plan for a year, and the agency still does not know how Mr.