MBTA overseers gave a green light yesterday to a $218 million contract for work to upgrade the train control signal systems on the Red Line and Orange Line, the final piece of work that T officials say is critical to meeting the system’s service reliability goals.

The upgrades are intended to make it quicker and easier for the MBTA to make adjustments to track speed allowances and to repair the signal system when necessary. The new system also will work in tandem with the new Red Line and Orange Line cars the T plans to put into service over the next few years, allowing more trains to run more frequently.

“This is replacing 1970s-based analog signal systems along both the Orange Line and the Red Line. Beside the fact that we have components and relays that are obsolete now that we have to maintain in-house and overall reliability of the system is suffering, we are also limited in what we can do within the system in order to speed trains up, essentially,” MBTA Deputy General Manager Jeff Gonneville said. He added, “We have to upgrade our signaling system at the T. Period.”

The MBTA expects the signal upgrade work will be substantially complete on the Red Line by December 2021 and on the Orange Line by April 2022. Once paired with a fleet of brand new trains on both lines, the T expects to have trains run three minutes apart in the downtown core of the Red Line and 4 A minutes apart on the Orange Line.

“It gives us a modern system that allows us to actively manage the speeds when it comes to the signal process … and it provides us with a new way to provide analytics around how our system is performing and things that are causing signal warnings,” MBTA General Manager Luis Ramirez told reporters. “It’s also exciting for us because once we get this in place and we also have the new vehicles with that technology in place, that’s what gets us to the 3-minute headways.”

The signal upgrade project is part of the MBTA’s $1.98 billion Red Line/Orange Line Improvement Program, which also includes purchasing 252 new Red Line cars and 152 new Orange Line cars, state-of-good-repair improvements and other infrastructure projects.

“This is something that, really, our customers are anxiously anticipating the day in which there will be fewer and fewer issues related to signals,” MBTA Assistant General Manager for Capital Delivery Beth Larkin said.