Metro has a problem with its escalators. At any given time, too many are out of service. Some seem to have been "under repair" since the system first opened over 30 years ago. Many of the breakdowns create potential bottlenecks that would make the evacuation of some stations very tricky.
Metro once looked at converting some of the shorter escalators to stairs, but the idea was shot down with what appeared to be very little critical thinking.
Another option, that probably wouldn't cost much would be to adopt a system commonly used in Europe and Asia, where many escalators automatically turn off when there is no traffic. When someone does approach an idle escalator, a pressure plate--or other type of sensor--installed at the top and bottom, activates the escalator. This gives the complex, error prone machinery a breather when not in use, reducing wear and tear, and no doubt providing a savings in energy costs.
Reader Steve, from Crofton, Md., wondered why, given the amount of breakdowns plaguing Metro's escalators, there hasn't been any implementation of such a system here in DC.
We asked Metro, and this is what they said:
"Motion sensors are used in Europe and Asia to monitor whether or not there are riders using the escalator(s). When not used for a pre-determined period of time, the sensors allow the escalator to shut-off automatically. As an approaching rider triggers the sensors, the escalator automatically restarts.
WMATA participated in a study by the National Institute of Building Sciences which looked at the benefits of the intermittent operation concept. The study concluded the potential for substantial liability costs in the present litigious climate would exceed the energy savings potential and will likely preclude the adoption and use of intermittent escalators in the United States.
In addition the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, who author ASME A17.1 Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators, have not accepted intermittent operation of escalators. This Code is the fundamental basis for most Jurisdictional laws governing the operation of elevators and escalators in the United States.
Until the liability and Code issues are addressed, intermittent operation of escalators is highly unlikely and in most Jurisdictions illegal.
Not to mention the substantial cueing space required to control approaching passenger flow does not exist in most Metrorail stations."
So, in other words, this can't be done in the U.S. because agencies are afraid they'd get sued, and the ASME wants to keep escalator repairmen employed. OK, that second point is a little flip, but we really can't see any other reason, as these systems work fine in other parts of the world.
With Metro in particular the problem appears to be exacerbated because when it was designed, there was no anticipation for the traffic the system carries today.
Bottom line: "No, we can't."
For you, the passenger, it's lose lose.
Photo: Thomas Wilburn
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