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Posted at 1:23 PM ET, 02/18/2011

VRE's WiFi plan hits funding snag

By Jennifer Buske

Virginia Railway Express riders will have to wait a little longer for wireless Internet access on trains because the cost for the service turns out to be much higher than rail officials once expected.

VRE officials originally presented a plan to add wireless to a few cars on each train -- a move they thought would cost about $90,000 to start and $50,000 annually. But after further research, VRE determined that the cost to do basic wireless would be almost $450,000, and would not be ideal since it would only serve a handful of passengers on a slower system.

On Friday, VRE Chief Executive Dale Zehner presented a new plan to the VRE Operations Board that would cost about $1 million initially and about $230,000 annually, but provide wireless on all train cars. Zehner said the new proposal could reach 100-plus riders a train instead of 24 and also includes newer 4G technology, which is a faster service than the one originally proposed.

"If you're going to provide it, you have to provide it well," Zehner said, adding that he believes this is a smart investment, as the demand for fast, free Internet service is going to continue to rise.

VRE officials said the proposed system would also allow VRE to combine its platform, train and phone announcements into a unified messaging system. The station and train announcements are now on separate networks.

After some discussion, the board authorized Zehner to develop a funding plan for the new proposal. Zehner said that there is not enough money now to install the wireless, but that there could be by fall depending on how much state and federal funding VRE ends up getting. When VRE announced its original wireless plan last year, officials said it could be in place by spring.

By Jennifer Buske  | February 18, 2011; 1:23 PM ET
Categories:  Commuter Bus, Virginia, Virginia Railway Express  | Tags:  vre  
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