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Posted at 10:15 AM ET, 02/18/2011

Metro escalator steps collapse

By Luke Rosiak

Several steps of an escalator at Foggy Bottom fell into the machinery this morning, causing a dangerous situation and massive backups. A Metro spokesperson said no one was injured, but Father Nathan Humphrey, commenting on this blog post, said a woman "fell on her back in the middle of the wreckage, but not, thank God, into the chasm. Another man and I immediately pulled her up and made sure she wasn't injured. Shaken up and probably bruised, but not injured."

esc3.jpg

Of the three escalators, one is being completely gutted, and another had stalled. At some point, the stairs at the bottom of the remaining moving escalator collapsed, the Post's Ann Scott Tyson reports. Mechanics have since repaired the hole, and there are now two non-moving escalators available as walkers.

esc2.jpg

According to a witness who wrote to Unsuck D.C. Metro, "Two or three people fell in. I would say it was about a three foot drop into jagged steel from the overturned stairs, not to mention whatever else is underneath the escalator. The people managed to pull themselves out and didn't look seriously injured, but one woman was pretty shaken up."

When asked about the incident, a Metro spokesperson wrote in an email: "Metro maintenance staff is making repairs to an escalator unit at the Foggy Bottom station today... Last month we told customers that we were beginning a year-long project to replace all three escalator units at the station's entrance. While that work is taking place, it may be inconvenient to have units out of service, however in the grand scheme of things, the long-term gain by installing new units will be worth the short-term inconvenience."

(Bottom picture from Twitter user srochedc. Others by Ann Scott Tyson. This post has been updated.)

By Luke Rosiak  | February 18, 2011; 10:15 AM ET
Categories:  Blue Line, Metro, Orange Line  | Tags:  Escalators  
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Comments

That has to be the most tone-deaf response ever from Metro. The issue is not "inconvenience" due to closed escalators - in fact, I'm sure the people who fell in the gaping metal hole would have loved it if the escalator was blocked off and closed! This is a basic safety issue - the only appropriate response is "we're really sorry, it will never happen again, and we hope the new escalators don't suck as bad as the pieces of crap we have now." Yet again, WMATA fails to perform, and then responds to questions about that failure in the worst possible way, demonstrating that they have no real concern or regard for their customers.

Posted by: safetydancer | February 18, 2011 10:59 AM | Report abuse

The sad thing is this isn't all that surprising. The people will just stand by like cattle.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | February 18, 2011 11:29 AM | Report abuse

I want Metro to be a good system. I really do. But I just don't feel like the guys in charge really care as much as I do.

Posted by: ravensfan20008 | February 18, 2011 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Great picture of the trashed stairs. Not entirely sure without close analysis, but they appear to show signs of metal fatigue.

As for the response, I'd have to give WMATA a pass since they clearly want to talk to their lawyers first.

Glad (hoping) nobody was hurt in this. I estimate a 2-3 foot drop from stairs to escalator floor, which, along with the crashing stairs, would be very unpleasant.

Posted by: ennepe68 | February 18, 2011 11:59 AM | Report abuse

I was actually at the base of the escalator when this happened. The escalator was in operation and I was just about to step on to it when the panel below my feet rose and I head a great crashing noise. I saw the steps collapse in on themselves at the bottom and the woman immediately in front of me fell on her back in the middle of the wreckage, but not, thank God, into the chasm. Another man and I immediately pulled her up and made sure she wasn't injured. Shaken up and probably bruised, but not injured. Thank God I didn't lose my balance--all I had to do was jump backwards. No one else was directly involved. The Metro employee had been shouting before the accident "Everybody keep to the left. There's only one escalator in operation!" After I pulled the woman up, I said, "So much for everyone keeping left!" I decided there was nothing more for me to do and continued on my way, much shaken but also thankful that poor young woman wasn't seriously injured! Fr. Nathan Humphrey, Vicar, St. Paul's, K Street www.saintpaulskstreet.com

Posted by: njahumphrey | February 18, 2011 12:34 PM | Report abuse

They are pretty matter-a-fact about people nearly getting seriously hurt. Cleaning house is the only answer, top to bottom.

Posted by: JorgeGortex | February 18, 2011 12:46 PM | Report abuse

So now that there has been an actual collapse of escalators, in addition to the extensive documentation of escalator outages and problems, will Metro *FINALLY* take some long-overdue steps to get its escalator program in order?

Or are they going to wait for an even worse incident that causes serious injuries to customers (a la Red Line crash) and massive lawsuits?

(1) Fire the senior managers of the escalator program. Don't just cover up with another layer of management, as Metro did earlier this year. There should be consequences for repeated demonstration of substandard performance.

(2) Contract out the escalator repair & rehab program. That's how other facilities handle their escalators - a big reason why they DON'T have the endless problems that Metro experiences. Moreover, Metro has demonstrated that it simply can't handle the job.

Posted by: jrmil | February 18, 2011 12:53 PM | Report abuse

MetroFAIL.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | February 18, 2011 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Because the people of DC insist on electing the same party of morons into power, Metro continues to be run entirely in-house, ala the DMV and Post Office. Hence, nothing changes but the cost, which continues to go up.

You get what you elect people. Make people actually work for your vote and you will see results.

Posted by: johnfchick1 | February 18, 2011 1:01 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to say unbelievable, but that would be a lie.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | February 18, 2011 1:16 PM | Report abuse

I wasn't there this morning, but I exit Foggy Bottom in the morning at least three times a week. I just wanted to offer some information that might clear things up a little bit.

Each morning for the past few weeks, Metro has been stopping the middle escalator and there has been an employee telling people exiting that they may walk up the center escalator but to "please keep left." This seems to be because there are a lot more people exiting than entering at the time of the day and otherwise things get pretty jammed up on the mezzanine.

Again, I wasn't there this morning, but I'm pretty sure that the center escalator hadn't broken down and also was not "in operation" at the time of the incident. It had merely been stopped as usual in the morning.

Posted by: jw703 | February 18, 2011 1:20 PM | Report abuse

As much as I appeciate that Metro is cash-strapped and funding/commitment is appallingly elusive, the idea that I am taking life and limb into account not from terrorist threat or metro area thugs but from the simple act of stepping onto an escalator makes me steam.

Posted by: mac4700 | February 18, 2011 1:21 PM | Report abuse

As much as I appeciate that Metro is cash-strapped and funding/commitment is appallingly elusive, the idea that I am taking life and limb into account not from terrorist threat or metro area thugs but from the simple act of stepping onto an escalator makes me steam.

Posted by: mac4700 | February 18, 2011 1:22 PM | Report abuse

As much as I appeciate that Metro is cash-strapped and funding/commitment is appallingly elusive, the idea that I am taking life and limb into account not from terrorist threat or metro area thugs but from the simple act of stepping onto an escalator makes me steam.

Posted by: mac4700 | February 18, 2011 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Get my lawyer on the line!

Posted by: TaxiDriver | February 18, 2011 1:28 PM | Report abuse

http://unsuckdcmetro.blogspot.com/2011/02/escalator-root-problems-part-ii-foxes.html

Posted by: bsu4phd | February 18, 2011 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Isn't it just wonderful how Metro reminds us that: "Last month we told customers that we were beginning a year-long project to replace all three escalator units at the station's entrance."

So, basically Metro, what you're saying is that your customers should have been prepared for the escalator to catastrophically collapse? So it's basically your customer's fault for actually attempting to USE these escalators for their intended purpose?

So you see, It's clearly NOT Metro's fault that the escalator collapsed, it's OUR fault for using them while Metro was embarking on their "year-long project" to replace them. Hell, if Metro had their way, they'd erect one of their little "safety" barricades in front of each of the offending pieces of equipment to help protect us lowly riders from using such obviously decrepit equipment.

But no... Because we "customers" (there's that Metro-abhorrent word again) actually want to get OUT of the stations in a reasonable length of time, Metro can't just block off these escalators to protect us from ourselves. So it's our own fault for not letting Metro do what they need to do to make us safe...

THIS is Metro's "safety culture" at work for you. THIS is what Metro would rather do - blame their customers - instead of just shutting up, admitting their system sucks on a level unmatched by anything except for the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, and taking real proactive steps to fix things the resort back to their time-honored tradition of "blame the customer".

It's our fault Metro doesn't run on time - because we block the doors on the trains. Next time you're on a massively overcrowded train, listen to the attitude in the voice of the operator as they get on the speakers and condescendingly reminds us that overcrowding the train will screw up the doors. It's not Metro's fault that they have lazy employees who don't do their assigned maintenance tasks so they can't run 8 car trains like the promised a few years ago or run trains more frequently. It's not Metro's fault that somehow they've spent the past 30 years not budgeting money to make infrastructure improvements, so the system would be more reliable and "safe" for us.

Nope, if you listen closely to their words it's our fault for not letting Metro do whatever they feel like doing and expecting them to change.

There you go Mr. Sarles, Mr. "CEO". You want us to believe that you actually want things to change? Put our money where your mouth is: Why don't you give an interview instead of hiding behind the Metro mouthpiece, start making us think that things will change by changing the basic underlying tone of the messages Metro sends out by giving them yourself.

Metro = Suck

Posted by: mika_england | February 18, 2011 1:35 PM | Report abuse

http://unsuckdcmetro.blogspot.com/2011/02/escalator-root-problems-part-ii-foxes.html

"This way of doing things, the source said, "destroys the incentive" of the younger workers who know that if they do a good job, their escalators will be taken away by someone with more seniority."

Posted by: bsu4phd | February 18, 2011 1:37 PM | Report abuse

METRO: WHY NOT BUILD SOME ORDINARY WOOD OR OR METAL STAIRS AT EACH METRO STOP TO GIVE PEOPLE THE OPTION OF 'OPTING OUT' OF USING THE ESCALATORS? PB in DC

Posted by: PB-in-DC | February 18, 2011 1:39 PM | Report abuse

TaxiDriver said it first, but yeah, it's bound to happen: here come the lawsuits!

I'm just wondering - of the people who were actually ON the steps, how many will claim some sort of injury? Happens all the time on buses in accidents, and people have even been caught getting on buses so they can claim their portion of settlement.

Posted by: JustSaying1945 | February 18, 2011 1:58 PM | Report abuse

"WHY NOT BUILD SOME ORDINARY WOOD OR OR METAL STAIRS AT EACH METRO STOP" - PB-in-DC

Are you kidding? Given their incompetence Metro would either end up building stairs that have the nails facing up out of the steps instead of the right way.

Either that or they'd figure out a way to put the stairs together without ANY nails. Then when they collapse they can complain about "funding shortfalls" and that we didn't give them enough money to buy hammers...

Posted by: mika_england | February 18, 2011 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Metro's answer to this will be the same as everything else: we need more money.

Honestly, it's like we're paying them to fail.

Posted by: zippyspeed | February 18, 2011 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Again, Metro kills/injures more riders than terrorists ever have. End "random" bag checks by Metro Police, and use that funding for much needed infrastructure repairs!!!!

Posted by: WildBill1 | February 18, 2011 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Metro might become so dangerous that it will act as a terrorist deterrent.

Come to think of it, maybe that's the security gurus' plan ...

Posted by: lilhornie | February 18, 2011 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Umm..is the spokesperson for Metro on Meth? He/she totally avoided answering the question and alluded to something that has absolutely nothing to do with WTF happened and the detriment it could have caused.

Posted by: Insert_Name_Here | February 18, 2011 2:34 PM | Report abuse

You know what, metro riders? We are just as guilty of these incidents as metro management. Why, because we tolerate this behavior day in, day out. We the riders, have the ability to bring metro to their knees and demand, require, force safety standards. How, picket!!!! Yes, picket. Start a boycot; a protest; stop riding metro for a week and see what happens. If a nation like Egypt can bring their government toppling, we, Americans, citizens, can do the same.

Posted by: daughterofold | February 18, 2011 2:37 PM | Report abuse

daughterofold:

I prefer a more direct approach. Whenever Metro screws up, like the trains have to be offloaded, I just start yelling at the employees.

I figure the problem has to be solved from the ground up. Teach Metro employees that this level of "service" is not acceptable and maybe they'll start carrying the word up. After all, it's not like they're ever going to get rid of all the upper-level Union managers and "executives".

Posted by: mika_england | February 18, 2011 2:41 PM | Report abuse

GOP Rules! Cut all funding for metro....balance the budget...but a metro ticket will cost you $10 a trip...

Vote GOP, the "It's not our problem," party.

Posted by: SA-Town | February 18, 2011 2:58 PM | Report abuse

I know a lot of people depend on Metro but this is why I just grin and bear it and drive into DC.... This system, Like our economy.... is slowly dying!!! All we hear is they dont have any money or they need more money... I call this bad management but it is WMATA.. not too surprised.

Posted by: rvanags | February 18, 2011 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Oh yeah.. hey SA-Town... it's easy to point the finger but these problems existed before the GOP took control... it has been an ongoing issue for years... where the Dem's had control.... nice try with your political slant. (BTW, I have no affiliation to any party.. I was just making an obvious observation)

Posted by: rvanags | February 18, 2011 3:15 PM | Report abuse

PUT IN STAIRS FOR ONCE.

Posted by: dan1005 | February 18, 2011 3:31 PM | Report abuse

There are so many problems/delays/malfunctions/breakdowns EVERY SINGLE DAY on the METRO system that they should put their standard spiel "we regret the inconvenience & appreciate your patience" on a NON-STOP 24-7 loop.

NOT ONE DAY goes by where I don't hear about train issues on the speaker system as I make my daily ride downtown from N Virginia. It's always something. And I mean that literally.

"We're still experiencing delays on the Blue Line due to a train malfunction at Foggy Bottom. Support personnel are on the scene & we expect to have the problem resolved momentarily. CUE APOLOGETIC SPIEL READ BY A ROBOT.

Customers are used to this. You put up with it. You say to yourself: "It's better than the traffic nightmare." That I will not put up with. No driving for me. Sitting there like a snail twice a day.

No use in emailing WMATA about your issue/problem/complaint. They have heard it all.

I have NEVER in my entire almost 50 years of existence seen anything break down as often as a Metro escalator. You mean to tell me there is not one company in the entire world that can make escalators that require significantly less maintenance?

It surprises me that there aren't more accidents. A lot of stuff is falling apart, leaking, etc.

Posted by: TaxiDriver | February 18, 2011 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Much of this is the problem of lack of effective oversight from the Metro Board which in the past has been the captive of incompetent management. In particular, I think D.C. Council Member Jim Graham, during his long -- but now ended -- tenure on the Metro Board was more interested in perks like his parking space in the Metro Headquarters building in the very busy Chinatown neighborhood than in looking out for his constituents. He almost wrecked our taxi system by legislating a scarcity creating medallion scheme -- but got caught short when his Chief of Staff was indicted for accepting bribes by one of the big taxi operators. But, what do you expect from a local legislature that pays itself more than any othre in the country --including New York and California -- (about $100K) for a part time job. I am a dyed in the wool Democrat, but this is what we get from a one party state. Living and paying taxes in D.C. is a lot like living and paying taxes in Mubarak's Cairo.

Posted by: blehman2 | February 18, 2011 4:05 PM | Report abuse

"GOP Rules! Cut all funding for metro....balance the budget...but a metro ticket will cost you $10 a trip...

Vote GOP, the "It's not our problem," party."

What a total bunch of idiotic crapola! Like the rest of the liberals that have brought us trillions in debt, let's blame everything y'all screw up on the GOP. Might as well it worked to get the illegal immigrant elected to the White House. The problem is that there are so many just like you out there that believe your type of garbage spewed forth. You know the type I am talking about, y'all only have two brain cells and one is doing CPR on the other.

Posted by: VaGolfer1950 | February 18, 2011 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Only in DC would you see Liberals and Conservatives treating each news story as "proof" that their view of the world is the correct one, and that listening to members of that Other Party is going to lead to even worse outcomes in the future.

Actually, that's not true, I'm sure that a similar kind of thinking happens all over America. But elsewhere, they are more likely to view Republicans and Democrats together as one entity - "the Government" -where everyone is equally corrupt / incompetent / out of touch with the real world.

Personally, I don't know what to believe. Why aren't train systems in other cities facing similar funding issues, followed by predictable safety issues? Or are they, are we just don't hear the stories?

Posted by: ddowhan | February 18, 2011 4:34 PM | Report abuse

what a SHAME ! For an advance technological
society like US is just unacceptable.
We recevied appologies before, promissory
and management just got big paycheck.
(sorry for not so good american language)
Those events will never end.

Posted by: Sorila | February 18, 2011 4:35 PM | Report abuse

I know there is a cost to do it, but PLEASE Metro, get rid of one set of escalators at each station from the street level and turn them into stairs (see Clarendon).

Posted by: mar237 | February 18, 2011 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Metro needs to lay off all those people standing around in reflective vests and hire some more mechanics! The place is falling apart, but the only Metro employees I see are the ones in yellow vests, who just stand around, joke with each other, and occasionally show someone how to use a fare machine.

Posted by: pmendez | February 18, 2011 5:11 PM | Report abuse

Enough, haters! Metro employees are working as hard as they possibly can to fix the escalator problems. Salt-of-the-earth, hard-working, God-fearing union employees. GO UNION!!!!!

Posted by: wagtdn | February 18, 2011 5:13 PM | Report abuse

What makes that statement worse is that after the year long repair to the escalators they will break down the next day!

I'm not usually one to gang up on Metro but seriously just how hard is it to fix a freakin' escalator?Pentagon City has them running all the time and I've never seen them down, being gutted or whatever else it is that Metro does to the things. Where I used to work after you exited Metro a privately owned building had an escalator I had to go up. In two years that privately owned building's escalator was done 1 or 2 times whereas the Metro escalators were done 2-3 times a week! I just don't understand how this could be.

Posted by: dre7861 | February 18, 2011 5:44 PM | Report abuse

What makes that statement worse is that after the year long repair to the escalators they will break down the next day!

I'm not usually one to gang up on Metro but seriously just how hard is it to fix a freakin' escalator?Pentagon City has them running all the time and I've never seen them down, being gutted or whatever else it is that Metro does to the things. Where I used to work after you exited Metro a privately owned building had an escalator I had to go up. In two years that privately owned building's escalator was down 1 or 2 times whereas the Metro escalators were down 2-3 times a week! I just don't understand how this could be.

Posted by: dre7861 | February 18, 2011 5:45 PM | Report abuse

Union quality.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | February 18, 2011 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Didn't they just have these darn escalators out of service last year for some joke a name "capitol improvement program"? They were ou of commission for months and what did that accomplish? I knew that was bs when I read the sign even then.

Posted by: TG10 | February 18, 2011 5:57 PM | Report abuse

The Moscow Metro escalator system is amazing...and I am not a communist.

Posted by: nordicskichic | February 18, 2011 6:54 PM | Report abuse

How many people do you have to kill and injure before you get it. Obviously it's more than 8.

Posted by: stuckintraffictoo | February 18, 2011 7:12 PM | Report abuse

The blame goes to the genius who designed the stations with outdoor escalators, and the idiots who accepted the stupid design. All the working escalators in the world are indoors. Outdoor escalators, unsheltered, simply cannot be maintained. We've proven that to be the case. Even the covered ones still get leaves and other outdoor debris that gunk up the escalators. Farragut West, with all completely covered escalators, does not have nearly the problems that Foggy Bottom does.

BTW, to all the nasty political commenters, the DC government does not run Metro. As is logical, all three jurisdictions are involved, and no political party is solely to blame for outdoor escalators or their impossible maintenance. But, of course, money would help, and the current House leadership is beyond dumb to think of reducing Metro funding.

Posted by: STS72 | February 19, 2011 3:36 AM | Report abuse

The blame goes to the genius who designed the stations with outdoor escalators, and the idiots who accepted the stupid design. All the working escalators in the world are indoors. Outdoor escalators, unsheltered, simply cannot be maintained. We've proven that to be the case. Even the covered ones still get leaves and other outdoor debris that gunk up the escalators. Farragut West, with all completely covered escalators, does not have nearly the problems that Foggy Bottom does.

BTW, to all the nasty political commenters, the DC government does not run Metro. As is logical, all three jurisdictions are involved, and no political party is solely to blame for outdoor escalators or their impossible maintenance. But, of course, money would help, and the current House leadership is beyond dumb to think of reducing Metro funding.

Posted by: STS72 | February 19, 2011 3:37 AM | Report abuse

Ah, now I see how others' comments are duplicated. Sorry mine was.

Posted by: STS72 | February 19, 2011 3:40 AM | Report abuse

The best thing is to STOP all the escalators and turn them into stairs. Many benefits: no electricity used saves money, no maintenance, people get exercise they desperately need and no one can just stand on the thing like it is a disney ride blocking the way while the rest of us are trying to get someplace. Plus stairs are both up and down at the same time. Problems solved and by the way stairs don't collapse and crush people to death.

Posted by: eastprecinct | February 19, 2011 8:46 PM | Report abuse

Metro system is lacking qualified mechanics and overwhelmed by bureaucrats that are protected by unions and contribute NOTHING to the system's repairs. There is never going to be enough money in a system that keeps thousands of non-productive workers on payroll year-in, year-out but qualified mechanics and their supervisors are the key for reliable operation of undergrounds rail.

I read an article in New York Times a few weeks ago about Moscow's (Russia) metro and how they keep their escalators running for 10 million users daily. Since I lived in Moscow for 27 yers and 32 years in Washington, I have to admit that the system in Moscow was more reliable (it's not to say that everything else is:)! I would recommend to bring some of those mechanics to DC to help Metro out.

Posted by: GregInVA | February 20, 2011 11:50 AM | Report abuse

What you see is called a “pile up” of steps. There are several causes, such as step band stretch. (This happens when the chains are not properly lubricated and the parts wear due to the lack of lubrication)

Maintaining and replacing the chain would have been cheaper than what this wreck cost.

This may lead us to look at the fox watching the hen house. In this case I believe reducing maintenance budgets and time may have something to do with it. While I hope that intentionally not doing maintenance in order to get bigger profits is not the case, the result is the same.

Crazy low rates for quarterly maintenance.
In order to make a reasonable profit, most service companies charge 3 times the burden rate of the mechanic. Something short of monthly maintenance is short. So in essence signing such agreements is just an effective way for the service provider to get “first dibs” on the major repairs that will most certainly happen.

It’s important to note that if it is the building owner’s conveyance, it is their responsibility to maintain it. An oil and grease contract is just that. There is only an implied duty to inform to owner of things that need to be reported to the owner. Soon an exemption to that implied duty will be in all Oil and Grease contracts to protect the service provider and not the building owner or riding public.

This is why it is so important that conveyances get maintenance audits from people other than the elevator or escalator service provider. AHJ’s (Authority having Jurisdiction) are limited to the minimum standard of the code adopted by the AHJ. Politics some times limit the inspector’s time to 1-hour inspections.

Take a moment and think about how much time it takes to put up barricades and remove ½ the steps of an escalator as per ASME A17.2 recommendations. Some inspectors remove a few and some none. Add to this the requirement for step index testing and you realize it cannot really be done in only 1 hour.

The problem for many companies is that the company that tells the owner things they don’t want to hear is replaced by a company that will tell the owner what they do want to hear. (Emperors new clothes story http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Emperor%27s_New_Clothes ) See toddler story in Joliet.

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-01-28/news/ct-met-joliet-elevator-0127-20110127_1_elevator-shaft-elevator-car-elevator-inspectors

This is the same inherent problem with “private inspectors”.
I think remediation is something that will come when every one agrees to be reasonable about what to expect.

WAMATA is in the news because of transparency. Many more such incidents occur all over the country with out the public being informed. It is a national infrastructure issue that can be addressed if only we care to do so.


Robert L Krieger Jr.

Posted by: MrRKrieger | February 23, 2011 1:51 PM | Report abuse

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