Though wireless cell phone service was supposed to be available to riders in all parts of the D.C. Metro by Oct. 15, the project may not be completed for another three years.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority made an agreement in 2008 with Congress to have wireless service installed throughout the system by mid-October of this year, but officials announced Oct. 16 that the project will need to be extended until 2015.
The work was funded by the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, which allocated $1.5 billion to the transit agency that set an October 2012 deadline for the improvements. But after a 2009 Red Line crash in which nine people were killed, Metro focused its financial resources on safety issues, making cell service in the 106-mile system a lower priority. Metro officials made a deal with Congress last month to extend the deadline to March 2013.
Metro General Manager Richard Sarles sent a letter to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Oct. 15 stating that the project has required a level of coordination and logistical planning rarely seen in the transit industry and requesting that the deadline be moved to December 2015.
“We are further challenged by the fact that the work must take place as we also continue our highest priority of making urgent safety upgrades,” Sarles wrote in the letter.
According to Metro officials, a lack of qualified safety experts to escort the crews installing the equipment has also caused delay in the update process.
In a 2009 press release, Metro announced that it had made cellular service available in 20 of its busiest underground stations, including Rosslyn. It reported to Congress in 2011 that installations in 82 percent of the remaining stations were complete and that it has wired two stations since then.
Georgetown students expressed disappointment at the delays to the installation of service, citing the inconvenience presented by wireless dead zones.
“It’s inconvenient to not have service when you are trying to meet up with people somewhere else in the city, like at Union Station or Reagan [National] Airport,” Ashley Lozier (SFS ’16) said. “It’s frustrating when you do not have service to check the Metro schedule so you can figure out if they are running behind.”
Alex Vicas (COL ’16) added that lack of service in the Metro undermines his sense of security when using the system.
“This delay will affect my overall sense of security,” Vicas said. “Although I never feel in direct danger, this … will elevate my sense of caution.”