Can you hear me now? Not inside Metro tunnels

WASHINGTON — There are new calls this week for Metro to work more quickly on improving cellphone coverage inside tunnels across the system.

A study earlier this year from the Council of Governments found that while 90 percent of calls to 911 went through inside stations, only 28 percent went through inside Metro tunnels.

Metro is negotiating with the cellphone carriers for a deal to install leaky coaxial cables that would bring better mobile communication in the tunnels. Leaky feeder systems are common for cellphone coverage in underground transit systems across the world.

Metro also wants the cellphone carriers to install new radio equipment while crews are in the tunnels, which would convert the Metro radio system from 490 megahertz to the widely used 700-800 megahertz range.

Rep. John Mica, R-Florida, scolded Metro on Tuesday for the slow pace of the negotiations and threatened action if a deal were not reached soon.

Stuart Freudberg of the Council of Governments said he agrees a deal needs to be reached soon and the work needs to be a high priority for Metro. He briefed Metro board members Thursday.

“Negotiations are taking time. But it’s viewed as an essential capability that needs to be accomplished as quickly as possible,” said Freudberg.

“Why is it critical? Because there are enough events in the system that people need to be able to reach 911 centers in an emergency,” he added.

Interim General Manager Jack Requa said Metro meets weekly with the cellphone carriers, but no deal has been signed.

“The discussion with the board can take place very soon in regards to where we stand with the carriers and we hope we will have an agreement soon,” Requa said.

Requa said he expects a deal before the end of the year.

Metro previously contracted with PowerWave Technologies to do the work, but the company went bankrupt in 2013. The wireless carriers paid $2 million to settle a feud over the Metro installation, taking over responsibility for the project.

Freudberg said he hopes tunnels in Rosslyn could see cellular service improve within 18 months.  All the work could take several years to complete systemwide, possibly lasting until the end of the decade.

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