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Metro: L'Enfant escalator brakes failed

By Luke Rosiak

(This post will be updated)

A preliminary investigation into the escalator failure at L'Enfant Plaza Station followed last weekend's Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert rally, when the system broke a 19-year record for Saturday ridership, has determined that the escalator brakes failed, causing the unit to speed up and dumping the riders at the bottom.

The report, delivered this morning to the Metro board's safety committee, concludes that a safety sensor detected that the escalator was going down too fast and shut down the escalator motor.

Metro Deputy Chief of Rail Safety Robert Maniuszko said the unit involved, a Westinghouse Modular 100, had been running in the ascending position but the station manager reversed it and turned it to descending due to the crowding.

"There was very heavy loading on the escalators," he said. The escalator motors stopped due to an "overspeed fault," he said. When the escalator shut down the brakes were applied, but they failed.

After "the distinct sound of a metallic bang" the escalator accelerated for 18 seconds, causing riders to fall and form a pile up at the bottom. He said 16 people were injured, four were transported to area hospitals and one had serious injuries, including lacerations and possible internal injuries.

An inspection of the brakes showed that "one brake had oil on it" and "showed brake pad wear," he said.

Metro is examining records from when the escalator was last maintained, by Metro employees, in September. The unit was installed in 1977 and rehabbed in 2004, meaning it would not be due for another overhaul for 10 or 15 years.

--Robert Thomson and Ann Scott Tyson

By Luke Rosiak  | November 4, 2010; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting, Metro, Transportation News  | Tags:  Escalators  
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David Lacosse (Manager of Escalators in Metro) needs to be fired immediately. Seriously. Now people's safety is endangered because of this incompetent idiot. WMATA, I know you have a strict policy against firing people, but please, for the love of god, FIRE DAVID LACOSSE. Or at the very least, give him a paid suspension (aka vacation) forever.

Posted by: jrutter21 | November 4, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

I'm pretty sure he's already on a paid vacation.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | November 4, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Good thing the Board formed that "new" Safety Committee.

Posted by: LouLewis | November 4, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Were people on the escalator when the station manager reversed its direction?

Posted by: DOEJN | November 4, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Let's face it. The system is being pushed to its limits by overcrowding and the resources available are being stressed to their limits due to this. Anything that crowded on a daily basis and much worse during events is going to have incidents because they can't keep up with everything and it spirals.

Posted by: SusanMarie2 | November 4, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, WP and Dr. Gridlock for following up on this story.

As to the question about whether people were on the escalator when it was reversed--no. I was walking down the adjacent escalator (halted and walk-down only), watching as the tech reversed the escalator, which was blocked off until it was running.

Am no engineer, but common sense tells me that Metro needs to have a policy for large crowds to either keep the escalator as a walk-down or to control the number of people allowed on when putting into service -- similar to carnival rides which need to be balanced. You would think after all these years they would have appropriate safety precautions in place.

Posted by: BethS | November 4, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

PS. I thought for sure some Metro guy sped it up on purpose just to watch those people go flying; just kidding, hee hee.

Posted by: SusanMarie2 | November 4, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Aren't they overhauled annually? I know that the escalators in the stations that I frequent seem to be out of service for overhaul on an annual basis. It usually goes much longer than scheduled, but the escalator mechanics when onsite, appear to be working hard. It looks like a big, ugly, job. Definitely not for a weekend hobbyist.

Posted by: CalmTruth | November 4, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Metro's overall performance on October 30th was absolutely appalling. There was a ONE HOUR wait to buy fare cards at Shady Grove metro stop. At Tenleytown with a packed platform, numerous trains arrived at the station where NOT ONE person could board. My daughter rode the red line from Glenmont -- one person was able to squeeze on the car at Wheaton and that was it all the way downtown. While Saturday was an extraordinary event, Metro was COMPLETELY unprepared and even after several hours, could not begin to handle the demand. Not surprising I suppose for a system that runs 6 car trains 10 minutes apart during rush hour on the red line (just happened on Tuesday). But I'm glad to see the significant fare hike has kept service levels the same! What every senior manager at Metro should be required to do is actually RIDE the system every single day.

Posted by: trt2539 | November 4, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

With appropriate credit to the Stewart/Colbert ditty-writing crew (for those who actually did get the chance, in person or online, to hear Saturday's festivities), an additional chorus as sung by WMATA:

'Cause we're the lamest transit system in the world,
The lamest transit system in the world.
From trains that crash to stairs that break to rampant thuggery...
(By riders and also fare-setters)
There's no one more incompetent than we!

Posted by: nan_lynn | November 4, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Its way past time to remove all escalators that take people the equivalent of one floor up or down and replace them with fixed stairs. Safety would be increased and maintenance, repair and energy costs would be greatly reduced.
The saving could then be put towrds keeping the longer ones (Dupont, Rosslyn, etc) running.

Posted by: wpost16 | November 4, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

Bravo wpost16! The escalators at Union Station, Metro Center, Gallery Place and other stations that move people the equivalent of one floor are chokepoints even when they are working. When they break down (frequently) they can be almost impassible. RIP THEM OUT! Replace them with stairs and apply the repair and maintenance resources to the longer escalators that can't be removed.

Posted by: Eplebnista1 | November 4, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Um, have you seen some of those escalators? Some shoot straight up to the sky at what looks like a quarter mile high. As much as I like to take the stairs I don't want to see those turn into fixed stairs! But then, ridership would definitely decrease and the crowding problem would go away!

Posted by: SusanMarie2 | November 4, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse

Oh, the shorter ones...well crowds would still build up even on the shorter ones if people had to wait behind slow climbers.

Posted by: SusanMarie2 | November 4, 2010 5:42 PM | Report abuse

BethS - What on earth are you talking about? The escalator didn't have a problem because it was "unbalanced" (whatever that means on an escalator) or because it was overloaded. It was carrying the same load it carries every day at rush hour.

It had a problem because the speed control & braking systems failed.

Posted by: Bob-S | November 4, 2010 7:23 PM | Report abuse

Bob-S I understand the brake failed. But that doesn't mean a large number of people suddenly using the escalator after it was just put back into service wasn't a factor. The crowd was indeed huge. People were being redirected (I among them) to that Metro entrance because the one closer to the mall was being used for "up only" traffic. In any event, the best policy would have been to make it walk-down only for that large of a crowd. And it's my understanding that the same place was "walk up" only earlier in the day.

Posted by: BethS | November 4, 2010 8:17 PM | Report abuse

I get off at L'Efant station everyday monday through friday. They have four escalators. Only 3 are running and one to go upstairs from the blue/orange line. Two are running from the yellow/green line. The one escalator towards your right has been broken for over a YEAR!

Metro is bidding for cheap labor to fix those escalators. Raising the prices on ridership and pocketing that money. By giving the Manager of CEO a hefty salary of $400k salary when they are injurying riders and making riders to opt to drive in and out Metro DC.

Wait until all federal workers start doing 4 days of teleworking. Than private sectors will copy what the federal workers are doing. Public Transportation screwed up big time!

Posted by: aidap11 | November 4, 2010 8:48 PM | Report abuse

The same thing happened at the West Falls Church station a month or so ago.

Posted by: lambsphotos | November 4, 2010 10:29 PM | Report abuse

Just imagine... if a congressman had been on the broken escalator it would have come to a halt immediately.

Posted by: MyPostYourPostLetsCallTheWholeThingOff | November 4, 2010 11:15 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: waterfrontproperty | November 5, 2010 12:30 AM | Report abuse

I think the real story is that Metro actually keeps records. Whether anyone reviews them occasionally is another matter.

MetroRail: 35 years and we still can't fix an escalator.

Posted by: hofbrauhausde | November 5, 2010 5:47 AM | Report abuse

David Lacosse (Manager of Escalators in Metro) needs to be fired immediately. Seriously. Now people's safety is endangered because of this incompetent idiot. WMATA, I know you have a strict policy against firing people, but please, for the love of god, FIRE DAVID LACOSSE. Or at the very least, give him a paid suspension (aka vacation) forever.

Posted by: jrutter21


Dude or Dudette: Did you use to work for the Metro?

Posted by: netwitone | November 5, 2010 8:19 AM | Report abuse

Nothing breaks down more than escalators!

The last time every escalator in the Metro system was in working order was the first day Metro opened back in the day.

I'm surprised more fat folks don't have heart attacks.

-23-year Metro Rider.

Posted by: TaxiDriver | November 5, 2010 9:10 AM | Report abuse

At about 8:15 this morning, the down escalator at Smithsonian (Independence Ave. entrance) suddenly and without warning shut down -- while someone was on it. Nobody was working on it, there were no maintenance people around, and it was not overloaded.

By this point it's become glaringly obvious that Metro's escalator system is inadequate and dangerous. Installing stairs alongside or in place of the escalators should be a priority.

Posted by: VDouglass | November 5, 2010 9:17 AM | Report abuse

There should be a web site and news station dedicated solely to Metro failures.

Posted by: amelia7 | November 5, 2010 9:25 AM | Report abuse

"There should be a web site and news station dedicated solely to Metro failures"

Posted by: jrutter21 | November 5, 2010 9:37 AM | Report abuse

The solution is get rid of the escalators and just use them as stairs. Many people need the exercise anyway even if they don't want it.

Posted by: TG10 | November 5, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Way back when the Redskins still played at RFK stadium we had just stepped off the overcrowded escalator onto the street when we heard screaming. We turned and looked back and the escalator had dumped everyone in a pile at the bottom. So this is not a new problem.

Posted by: mordrud | November 5, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

What a nation of whiners we've become. We demand low taxes and then complain when our publicly financed infrastructure fails.

We are a low tax nation (compared to Europe where their escalators seem to work fine), so buy that extra Big Mac with your tax savings and work it off when your escalators grind to a halt.

Posted by: Trakker | November 5, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Why the proposal to install stairs? When the escalators aren't working, they ARE stairs.

Posted by: beckley1 | November 5, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

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