July 11, 2005

Cell Phone Links Disabled in New York Tunnels

NEW YORK (Reuters) -- Cellular phone service has been shut off in four busy New York commuter tunnels since last week's deadly blasts in London, officials said on Monday.

No specific reason was given for the move but cell phones have been used to trigger bombs in the past.

Cell phone service is disabled in the Holland and Lincoln tunnels that connect Manhattan to New Jersey under the Hudson River, the Midtown Tunnel to the city's Queens borough and the Battery Tunnel to Brooklyn, officials said.

The move came immediately after the bombings in London on Thursday, said a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees operation of the Lincoln and Holland tunnels.

New York has remained on high alert for another attack following the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacked plane attacks, which destroyed the World Trade Center's twin towers.

In March 2004 bombs in Madrid that killed 191 people on trains were fitted to mobile phones, using the alarms as timers. Police in London have said they believe the subway bombs there were detonated by timers.

"Following the bombings in London, as a security precaution, the Port Authority required that cell phone service be suspended inside the Lincoln and Holland tunnels," said Tony Ciavolella, a Port Authority spokesman. "This was an initiative we put into place for the safety and security of the public."

The service will be disabled until further notice, Ciavolella said.

A spokesman for the New York Police Department said officials would weigh the benefits of disabled service against allowing cell phone service in the tunnels so the public could report suspicious packages or individuals.

Verizon Wireless spokesman Jeffrey Nelson said the Port Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had advised Verizon Wireless that they had discontinued cell phone service in the tunnels. Verizon Wireless is a venture of Verizon Communications and Vodafone, the country's second biggest mobile service.

Nelson said Verizon Wireless hoped service in the tunnels would be restored as quickly as possible and said he was not aware of any other U.S. cities taking similar actions.

"There's lots of different ways to use the cell phone as a trigger device," said Ken Dulaney, a wireless analyst for technology market research firm Gartner Inc.

But he added: "If you stop a cell phone, there are myriad other ways to trigger bombs."