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Can you HEAR ME??? Cellphone service coming to N.Y. subways

September 23, 2011 |  6:46 am

Subway cellphones
Ah, the sounds of the New York subway: the din from other riders' headphones; the scream of metal on metal as trains crawl into stations; those incomprehensible service announcements that belch and buzz through broken speakers. And soon, this: "Huh? Can you hear me? CAN YOU HEAR ME???"

After years of promises (or threats?), officials are expected to bring cellphone service to a handful of subway stations next week as part of a pilot program that someday will extend to all of the system's 250-plus platforms.

It's unclear why it has taken so long to get this far, but one thing is certain: The start-up of the program is coming years earlier than originally envisioned when Jay Walder, the chief of the transit agency, took the job in 2009.

At a conference in May of last year, the inevitable question came up: When will people be able to call their loved ones from the train to tell them, "I'M ON THE TRAIN!!!" Walder, responding to a reporter's question at the conference, said there were contractual arrangements to get cell service into subways, but he added: "I think the time frames that have been established for this are simply unacceptable. I don't believe we can explain to people why it will take until 2019 or something of that nature."

Two months later, whatever the logjam was apparently was cleared, because a flurry of local media began reporting that a deal had been struck with cellphone carriers. On Friday, there were fresh reports that starting next week, six subway stations in Manhattan will begin testing out the new service. A formal announcement is expected Tuesday, but the Associated Press quoted an official close to the contract talks as saying the rest of the stations should be wired in about five years.

This is the second giant leap this week for the oft-maligned subway system. On Thursday, the first leg of a new subway line that was first proposed in 1929 was completed and the project was declared -- for perhaps the first time ever -- "on schedule."

The 2nd Avenue subway, which will run along the sorely under-served east side of Manhattan, is due to be completed in 2016 -- just about the same time all the city's subway stations are due to be wired for cellular service.

DID YOU HEAR THAT???

-- Tina Susman in New York

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Censured N.Y. Rep. Charles Rangel gets official portrait

Photo: A New York subway train pulls into a station, which soon may have cellular phone service. Credit: Tina Susman / Los Angeles Times

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