Rolling and scrolling: MTA to debut cell service in L-train tunnel

L-train cell
Tubular: The L-train tunnel between Williamsburg’s Bedford Avenue station and Manhattan could soon have cell phone service.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

Straphangers will soon be able to call their friends — underwater!

State transit honchos are signaling their intent to give cell phone service to L-train riders as they traverse the underwater tunnel between Williamsburg and Manhattan, according to Metropolitan Transportation Authority head Pat Foye.

“Providing full connectivity to our millions of customers is a part of our continued push to modernize the MTA system,” said Foye in a statement. “We’re working to deliver full connectivity across our system and allow our customers to use their commuting time to meet their needs, whether it’s texting with friends and family or communicating with coworkers.”

When completed, the sub-East River stretch of the L train between Bedford Avenue and First Avenue stops would be the first to offer cell service to subway riders in an under-river tunnel, according to Foye. 

The transit agency is looking for companies to build and operate wireless broadband infrastructure in the tube and hope to have it installed during the tunnel’s ongoing reconstruction, which started in April and is slated to wrap in the latter half of 2020.

The transit agency is currently accepting bids from private companies to build and operate the wireless broadband infrastructure in the tube — which they hope is up-and-running by mid-2020, according to the solicitation request, which gives interested companies until Jan. 13 to apply. 

“Proposals with a schedule providing for completion of the Project as early as Second quarter 2020 will be viewed favorably by the MTA,” the Request For Proposal reads.

The agency has not yet zeroed in on candidates in the bidding process, according to spokesman Aaron Donovan — but they’ve previously worked with companies like AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon to roll out broadband on its Metro-North lines in Manhattan, and with communications firm Transit Wireless to bring phone connectivity to all underground subway stations.

The MTA is also installing similar technology in Long Island Rail Road’s tunnels beneath Atlantic Avenue with wireless provider Boingo, and maintains cell service in the Battery Tunnel with a consortium of cell carriers.