Monday, November 8, 2010

Metro Knew of Escalator Brake Issues

An internal document obtained by Unsuck DC Metro appears to reveal that Metro was warned by its own outside contractor of serious escalator brake problems at least a month before a major escalator brake failure at L'Enfant Plaza on Oct. 30 that injured more than a dozen, one seriously, and a similar incident at Gallery Place last Wednesday.

Metro appears to have done nothing with that knowledge.

In an internal audit of Metro's escalator problems conducted by outside consulting firm Vertical Transportation Excellence (VTX), numerous issues were addressed and made public, including dirty escalator switches, accumulation of garbage and water, and a shortage of workers.

But that wasn't the complete list. Below is a complete list of maintenance issues cited by VTX during its assessment of escalators and elevators at Woodley Park, Dupont Circle, Bethesda and Foggy Bottom:
Obvious signs of conditions requiring immediate maintenance/service address are being overlooked. Some examples witnessed during our assessments of the elevators and escalators include but are not limited to the following:
  • Major amounts of oil and lubricant on step treads and risers. Symptomatic of major leak at drive motor / reducer coupling. (scary)
  • Significant accumulation of metal shavings around hand rail newel areas from worn newel wheels.
  • Brake pads worn beyond usable life expectancy and out of adjustment allowing unit to freewheel to stop.
  • Numerous switches in safety circuits were dirty, out of adjustment, and ineffective. (scary)
  • Skirt panels were adjusted too tightly to the steps, creating metal shavings along the step roller tracks in the interior of the unit.
  • Hoist ropes severely rouged [corroded] and worn beyond acceptable life expectancy. (scary)
  • Sheet plastic being used to protect equipment from water intrusion. This is a critical life safety issue.
The draft document, which was accepted as the final, according to a Metro source, is dated Sept. 30, a full month before the L'Enfant incident.

Of course, in typical Metro style, the authority began "precautionary" inspections of all 588 escalator units in the system last Thursday night, almost a week after the L'Enfant incident and more than a month after being warned of the problem.*

"In light of recent incidents, [Assistant General Manager Dave Kubicek] decided that a proactive precautionary measure would be in the best interest of safety, keeping in mind we have a strong safety culture that we are growing here," Metro spokesman Lisa Farbstein told the Washington Post Nov. 5.

Proactive? Best interest of safety? Utter BS!

The transit authority has had two previous chances to come clean with riders about what they knew, once at an Oct. 14 Board meeting where the audit was discussed and again immediately after the L'Enfant incident. More importantly, they had over a month to do something about it.

They passed, and even said all safety issues were addressed "immediately."

Here's what Metro released publicly about the audit, and here's what Metro announced they were going to do in response to the audit.

Nothing about brakes.

Instead, Metro appears to have waited until more riders ended up in the hospital--again--before taking any substantive action.

One has to wonder what the point of spending our money on outside contractors if Metro is going to hide the findings from us. More importantly, what's the point of having an audit done if no action is taken on the findings until after an incident in which people are injured?

At this point, it's really hard not to think WMATA executive management is more concerned with keeping their jobs than the safety of the riding public.

David Lacosse, director of Metro's Office of Elevators and Escalators, and his boss Kubicek need to go--now.

* Brake issues date back almost two years

Other items:
Judge limits Metro liability for Red Line crash (WaPo)
WMATA seeks input on new railcars (WMATA)
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