By 2018, Metrorail riders may be able to send text messages and have phone calls from inside the tunnels. The original deadline for the Metro to make its Metrorail system provide cell phone coverage was 2012, but after the 2009 Red Line disaster, the Metro put more emphasis on safety priorities, according to WAMU. While described as "essential" and "absolutely critical" by Stuart Freudberg, the deputy executive director of Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the negotiations to approve phone coverage throughout the entire WMATA system have proven to be a long process. Metro Interim General Manager Jack Requa told WAMU that he expects the deal with Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile to be reached this year, but added, "That's speculating."
The recent focus on providing phone coverage was spurred by the Jan. 12 smoke incident at L'Enfant Plaza. A test in February confirmed that out of more than 400 911 phone calls, only 28 percent of the phone calls inside the tunnels were able to go through, while 90 percent of calls inside rail stations went through. WAMU reported that one of the biggest issues to installing the carriers' wireless infrastructure in the tunnels is that the project would be performed at the same time as the upgrading of the underground radio communications system that was mandated by Congress. This upgrade will bring the radio reliability to police and firefighters up to 99 percent. The underground radio communications system project is expected to begin January 2016 and will take up to three or four years. The phone coverage projected is expected to take the same amount of time. With these two projects, the Metro will be reduced to single-tracking and station shutdowns.
· Metro Working On Deal With Wireless Carriers To End Tunnel Dead Spots [WAMU]