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VRE Wireless Plan Goes Unfunded

By Potomac Local June 5, 2012 12:30 pm

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WOODBRIDGE, Va. – Virginia Railway Express knows what kind of wireless service it wants on its trains. It just doesn’t have the money to pay for it. 

The transit agency has looked at four ways to provide wireless service so riders can access email and low-bandwidth news and video content on the web via laptops and smartphones. Satellite, cellular, Bluetooth, and Wi-Max connections have all been viewed as possibilities for wireless service on the trains.

The most preferred method is cellular, and it would require the installation of wireless routers in the cab car of each train. VRE would then contract with Verizon as the internet service provider, according to documents that will be presented to the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission Thursday.

If installed, and while trains are moving, each router would be able to deliver internet connection to about eight to 10 devices. The installation cost for the system is estimated to be $1.4 million with an annual operating cost of $230,000, according to the documents.

The wireless system would also provide for easier communication with riders, new marketing methods, and could clear the way for a new paperless fare collection process, VRE states.

The plan comes at a time when many smartphones users have the ability to provide their own internet access by a process known as tethering, or connecting their phone to their computer to access the web. Newer phones also have a “hot spot” capability, allowing computer users to connect wirelessly to the internet through their smart phones.

While there is no money for wireless communication in the current VRE budget, there could be if the current 2013 budget is amended. Commissioners could budget for wireless service for the 2014 budget.

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