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September 17, 2019
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Metrorail Communications Study Calls for New Equipment, Coordination

Washington, DC –A new study of underground communications networks used by Metrorail recommends a long, system-wide to-do list, but also notes that important safety upgrades recommended in the study are underway.

Commissioned at the request of Senator Mark Warner (D – VA) after the January 12 smoke incident by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) Fire Chiefs Committee and the District of Columbia’s Homeland Security Emergency Management Agency (DCHSEMA), the study includes 15 key findings and 21 recommendations such as the installation of new underground communications equipment and better coordination with first responders and passengers.

The report lists both near-term actions to improve performance of existing systems and long-term recommendations that, once implemented, will greatly improve the transit system’s communications infrastructure, operations and maintenance, 9-1-1 service and procedures.

“This comprehensive study has identified key problems and how we can effectively solve those problems,” said Chief Mark Bashoor, of Prince George’s County Fire & Rescue Department and chairman of COG’s Fire Chiefs Committee. “We’re already making progress in several areas.”

For example, he noted the region’s fire chiefs reached an agreement in July with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to permanently place a fire / emergency management liaison in Metro’s Rail Operations Control Center, which was one of the report’s recommendations.  Metro is also working with the jurisdictions to improve the testing, reporting and repair of underground radio outages, the installation of new equipment and enhance training.

Long-term project recommendations include installing new coaxial cables along tunnel walls, replacing underground radio systems, and working with cellular carriers to ensure completely reliable cell phone service in Metro tunnels. WMATA is already seeking bidders on work to replace radio systems which would begin in 2016 and could take several years to complete.

Several COG committees, WMATA and the local jurisdictions served by Metro are in charge of implementing the recommendations.  The area’s four primary cellular phone carriers will be responsible for reaching an agreement to address the cellular / 9-1-1 service issues.  The Metrorail Communications Study Committee / Work Group will monitor implementation of the recommendations, and the COG Board, along with its Fire Chiefs and Chief Administrative Officers (CAO) Committees will provide additional oversight. The study is titled “The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Underground Communications Systems - Evaluation of Effectiveness and Interoperability.”

“COG has played an important role in facilitating public safety discussions between Metro and our regional partners,” said Jack Requa, Metro’s interim general manager. “We’ve made good progress by increasing radio testing, fixing outages as quickly as possible and embedding a fire department representative in Metro’s rail operations center. The recommendations will help Metro and our partners as we advance our communications systems and improve safety for riders, employees, and first responders, he added.

Chief Bashoor called the study “a very important step forward for the transit system that is vital to the residents and businesses in metropolitan Washington.”

Click here to view the Summary Report, Implementation Chart, and FAQs.


The Council of Governments is an independent, nonprofit association where area leaders address regional issues affecting the District of Columbia, suburban Maryland, and Northern Virginia.


Release Date: Oct 21, 2015
Contact: Jeanne Saddler
Phone: (202) 962-3250

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