Tysons, VA

Metro riders will now be able to make calls, listen to music, and scroll through social media while commuting without risking any service interruptions.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) announced yesterday (Wednesday) that it has finished establishing a systemwide wireless network, bringing WiFi to all 91 Metrorail stations and throughout 100 miles of tunnels.

The Silver Line in Tysons was one of the last three segments of the network to come online, along with the tunnels from Dupont Circle in D.C. to White Flint in Maryland and the Yellow Line between L’Enfant Plaza and the Pentagon.

According to a Metro press release, the project had been underway for more than a decade and involved partnerships with three major wireless carriers — AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon.

“Bringing this project to the finish line gives riders added security and all the conveniences of wireless connectivity,” WMATA General Manager and CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld said. “Customers can text, talk, and explore the internet and apps, including Metro’s mobile payment options to load value and manage their SmarTrip account while traveling on Metro.”

Congress ushered in wireless service for Metro with the passage of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, which included an amendment authorizing grants for WMATA maintenance projects and requiring the transit agency to ensure access to wireless provider services.

Funded by an agreement between Metro and the wireless carriers, the project required the installation of more than 400 miles of cabling and infrastructure. WMATA attributes the lengthy timeline to the fact that much of the work could only be done when trains were not operating, limiting workers to three or four-hour overnight maintenance windows and scheduled track outages.

The completion of Metro’s wireless system will improve the safety of Metro riders and workers, according to Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who helped facilitate the project with the rest of the D.C. region’s Congressional delegation.

“The federal government and the region have made substantial investments in making this system safer and more reliable, from rebuilding tracks to introducing new rail cars,” Warner said. “Now passengers will be able to use their cellphones underground throughout the system.”

Wiedefeld says systemwide wireless coverage will pave the way for Metro to implement technology that provides real-time communications with customers and allows the rail system to operate more efficiently. It could also be critical for enabling first responders to communicate in an emergency.

The wireless carriers will be responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations and maintenance of their own networks, including testing and enhancements.

“This significant joint investment provides a communications network that allows each provider’s customers to stay connected with their friends, families and favorite content when using the Metro system,” AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon said in a joint statement. “The cooperative approach adopted by the Providers and WMATA was critical in bringing this project to fruition.”

Photo by Michelle Goldchain

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