Monday, October 5, 2009

Escalator Improvement: No We Can't

UPDATE: Metro has been sued 16 times for escalator related injuries. Only one time was for a non-working unit.

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

Other items:
Ridership taking hit, Red Line in particular (Examiner)
Red Line delays continue (Examiner)

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Anonymous said...

One of the escalators at McPherson Square has been down since the Lobsterbacks attacked after the Battle of Bladensburg.

Anonymous said...

Every time i have complained to kiosk workers about non-working escalators, they all say they are "waiting for parts." Where are these parts coming from, overseas somewhere? Can't WMATA figure out that spare parts are ESSENTIAL to a working system?

Anonymous said...

I wonder what kind of lawsuit they are afraid of? Is anyone going to sue them when the motion sensor fails to activate the escalator? Then they should be expecting lots of lawsuits now with all the broken escalator.

Anonymous said...

If they sent you kisses, would it be better? I ask as I got some today. Rather creepy actually...
From: "METRO Alerts"
Subject: Metro No Line alert (Updated)
Date: 10/5/2009 9:14 AM

(ID 55960) Disruption at All Stations. Until further notice, all trains are stopping when the front of the train reaches the end of the platform.xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.

Joshua Davis said...

Anon 9:31am

They're afraid somebody fails to trip the sensor, gets on the escalator. As person 1 is still riding person 2 trips the sensor, causing the elevator to start while person 1 is mid-step, and makes person 1 fall over. Now you have your suit.

Anonymous said...

I think the lawsuit they are afraid of is from accidents that might occur when the escalators start up. I have used those systems in Germany, and they work well when passengers are walking at normal speed - by the time you get on the escalator, it is moving, and you might not even notice that it had been stopped. But if someone approaches a stopped escalator walking really fast, or running, the escalator may not start until the person is on it already. Such a rider may get jolted as the escalator starts moving, and they might fall and sue. And US transit systems are understandably concerned that our courts might award damages in such cases, rather than just saying, "sorry you got hurt, but that will teach you not to run on escalators." This probably is not as much a concern in Germany, where, for example, a pedestrian who gets hit while jaywalking will be held to be at fault in the accident and can't recover.
I always assumed that the Europeans used those systems solely to save energy, and I wondered if the frequent stopping and starting would hurt elevator life. But it sounds like the experts think it probably helps by letting the mechanism rest.

Anonymous said...

This is just another example of the sclerosis that infests our society at so many levels.

Anonymous said...

If the automated sensor ones work like regular escalators, there is no danger. I've been standing on them when they stopped unexpectedly or started up while I was walking up. It is such a slow steady movement I was well aware of what was happening and had no problem, not even much of a surprise.

Anonymous said...

The escalators at Clarendon have been on rotating maintenance for an entire year I think. It's a huge scam is the only thing I can think. The escalators they take out of service at Clarendon were working just fine the week before as they were working on one of the other 4 escalators.

Plus the escalator workers are all fat and ugly men. If they were svelte and shirtless most of the time, since they are constantly there, I wouldn't mind as much.

Anonymous said...

Broken escalators keep Union members employed. What part of "best jobs program taxpayer money can buy," don't you understand, Metro riders? The system was designed top to bottom to employ people, lots of people. If escalators worked, then somebody would lose a job.

Anonymous said...

What about lawsuits from people getting injured walking up or down non working escalators? The steps are much larger than normal steps and BIG TIME safety issue. Maybe a lawsuit about that would light a fire under someone's ass.

Anonymous said...

My guess is that the lawsuit climate in the U.S. is much more threatening to government entities than it would be in Europe. I hate it like hell, but they might have a point.

Anonymous said...

I like guessing how many of the three escalators at the Dupont south exit will be working each morning and which way they'll be going. I think all three were working (two going up, one going down) one day last month! That was some craziness! I totally lost my mental bet that day.

@VonniMediaMogul said...

I first heard about this escalator repair program 9 years ago.. How is it that nearly a decade later I have literally seen no progress other than those DAMN canopies they built over stations to keep the escalators dry? It's just damn retarded. That's all I can say.

Anonymous said...

for all those riderstired of the broken escalators listen up.the management and supervisers are rushing the mechanics through their maintance.under threat of firing two supervisers are notorious for this maggerling perez and thomas wetterhan.and this is being condoned by the directorand his staff.sugestion FOLLOW THE PAPERWORK LISTEN TO THE MECHANICS BEING FORCED TO WORK ALONE AND BEING RUSHED.SOMEONE IS GOING TO GET HURTSAFETY IS BEING SACRIFFICED FOR NUMBERS

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