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WMATA to soon offer expanded cell phone service at underground stations


Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) rail passengers soon will have cell phone access in the authority's underground stations. Last week, the agency's board approved an agreement under which four major cell phone companies — Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, AT&T and T-Mobile — will build a new wireless infrastructure in the underground rail system during the next four years.

The network also will enable riders to access the Internet from any Web-enabled cell phone and eventually provide Wi-Fi access.

The companies will design, build, operate, operate, maintain and own the wireless network. In addition, they will build a second network that WMATA will own and manage for its operational and public safety communications.

WMATA passengers currently have cell phone access at above-ground stations, but the current underground wireless network only supports Verizon customers and Sprint phones that roam on the Verizon network. By the end of this year, 20 of the busiest underground rail stations will have expanded cell phone service. The entire rail system will be equipped by2012, WMATA said.

The wireless contract is expected to generate at least $25 million during the initial 15-year term and an additional $27 million during the five, two-year renewal terms. Other carriers can gain access to the networks either by entering into agreements with Metro or the group of carriers.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 3/2/2009