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Why Metro Escalator Fix Takes So Long?

I got a question during Monday's Live Online discussion about the status of the escalator rehab at Rockville Metro station. The length of time it takes to repair the escalators is one of the longstanding gripes we have about the system.

This is the comment, in part:
"At the beginning of May, the escalators at the Rockville Metro station were shut down for rehabilitation. Fine.
Here's the rub. May, June and July were taken up for the rehab of the first escalator. Now the second one is scheduled for completion at the end of October. We will have been without a functioning escalator for six months at that point."

"Does six months seem reasonable, and is this the norm? sheesh"

Candace Smith, a spokeswoman for Metro, got back me about that project. Here's what she said:

"The Rockville escalators should be back in service in October. Normally it takes about three months to overhaul an escalator. These two units are over 20 years old and in need of rehabilitation. We expect an overhaul will result in many years of reliable service. Unfortunately, while one unit is out of service the other recently overhauled unit is used as a walker in both directions. This does present problems with pedestrian access to and from the platforms, but we have no alternative in order to perform the work.

"Metro uses a combination of contractors and non-contract workers to repair escalators and elevators. Contractors are performing the work at Rockville. They work from 6 a.m. until 4 p.m. While most of the work is at the unit, there is also a significant amount of work performed in the back rooms. The work is also highly skilled and
complex, so progress can appear to be slow. As a side note, Metro is considering adding stairs in some stations."

By Robert Thomson  |  September 20, 2006; 1:29 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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I remember reading this explanation in this very paper: Elevator mechanics are in the same union as bus mechanics, and union rules require they be paid on the same scale. However, the market wage for elevator mechanics is much higher than for bus mechanics. As a result, Metro is unable to attract or retain qualified elevator mechanics, and they just don't have the manpower to do the job. Metro management seems to believe that denying the problem is more important than solving it.

Posted by: Backbencher | September 20, 2006 1:56 PM | Report abuse

I took the metro to Foggy Bottom for almost 6 year till about early this year. Rarely saw all 3 elevators working at the same time. Took them more than a year to overhaul the elevators. The line to get out of the station in mornings took longer than my train ride from rosslyn. my 2c on wmata efficiency

Posted by: Washington DC | September 20, 2006 2:25 PM | Report abuse

I lived in NYC for 3 years and took the subway to/from work everyday. No escalators and there was always a line to get up the stairs. We survived. So yes they should do a better job with the escalators here, but there are worse problems in the world.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 20, 2006 4:43 PM | Report abuse

Why not do the work from 6:00 pm to 4:00 am?

Posted by: Led | September 20, 2006 4:53 PM | Report abuse

and hire non-union mechanics.

Posted by: Led II | September 20, 2006 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Escalators take months to rebuild. Does anyone at WMATA question the status quo?

Rebuilding escalators down to the last nut and bolt and wire IN THE STATION is just nuts. There is simply no way that WMATA can build it way out of the current escalator situation when an escalator is out of service for MONTHS for a rebuild.

How about modular designs where most of the work would be performed off-site in cozy, climate controlled facilities? The nearly-complete sections could be installed at the station in a fraction of the time.

WMATA boasts that it has a gazillion escalators including some of the longest in the western world, which leads me to ask:
What are the innovative steps that WMATA has taken that make it a world leader in rapid escalator rebuilds and high reliability?

If WMATA built cars:
Chevrolet is sending three master mechanics and a crate of parts to your driveway to build that new Malibu you requested. The mechanics have to be trained in assembling every part of your car so their labor rates are through the roof. Your new car will cost $287,234 and should be ready in six months (ok, eight months) Oh, and you can't drive your old car while the new one is being built.

Posted by: Josey | September 20, 2006 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Here's another escalator question: why, oh, why are two-thirds of the street escalators at Pentagon *always* going up? In the afternoon rush hour, when people are coming off the train and trying to get to the bus, it makes sense; but surely the directions should be reversed in the morning, when the up escalators are deserted and the down escalators are loaded up with people coming off the bus and hurrying to get the train. (And why is there a giant trash can eight feet from the bottom of the NC/Largo platform escalator on the 18th street side at Farragut West? Biggest pedestrian traffic jams I've ever seen.)

Posted by: walk left, stand right | September 21, 2006 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Um, New Yorker? You might notice that the subway in NYC is about 15 feet below the surface. Metro is considerably deeper. I'm sure you would enjoy climbing the stairs in Tinleytown, Rossylyn, DuPont Circle or several other stations. Of course if you knew that you would not be showing you lack of knowledge about Metro.

Posted by: I hate fools | September 21, 2006 2:28 PM | Report abuse

And she still hasn't answered the questions...what in the hell takes so long to repair or refurbish that elevator

Posted by: DCNiggas | September 21, 2006 4:28 PM | Report abuse

There was an escalator at Rosslyn (one of the two small ones going from the station to the Skywalk) that was out of order for 6 months. For at least 3 of those months, I never once saw a worker near it. Now there's an escalator out at Federal Triangle that Metro claims will take 4 months to fix. That's one single escalator out for 4 months. I love Josey's analogy -- that's dead on. Surely Metro could leave the escalator unblocked but not running, so at least people could walk up or down it, for at least part of that 4 months.

Posted by: Arlingtonian | September 22, 2006 2:45 PM | Report abuse

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