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Lengthy repairs for Dupont Circle escalators

Hi, Dr. Gridlock:
What up with the Dupont Circle north entrance escalators? Only one of the three has been functional for like a million years (okay, a month and a half).
Travis W. Montgomery
The District

There are always some broken escalators in the Metro system, but the ones I'm getting the most complaints about right now are the unmoving moving staircases at the Q Street NW exit for the Red Line's Dupont Circle Station.

This is a heavily used station on Metro's most heavily used line. Relatively few people want to walk up these escalators, even when they're working.The ride up is quite lengthy, giving passengers plenty of time to scan the lines from Walt Whitman etched on the vertiginous heights at the station's mouth.

So when more than one escalator is out -- as has been the case for over a month -- thousands of people notice.

In October, two of the escalators at this north entrance to the station were involved in accidents in which people needed medical attention. That led to a full safety inspection of both escalators. The inspections resulted in an extensive list of needed repairs, and the the escalators can't be returned to service till the repairs are complete.

You'll see them on Metro's big list of out of service escalators and elevators. They're the ones marked as under a "Safety Work Order" with estimated return to service dates of Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.

Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said one escalator is behind barricades because some parts have been removed for repair. It also needs to be refitted with a new step chain. The other out-of-service escalator has a similarly long set of repairs awaiting, but it isn't being worked on so Metro can use it as a staircase. That allows the one in-service escalator to keep operating in the up direction.

Even that one was scheduled to have regular repair work done. After the other two are back in service, Taubenkibel said, that one will go out for about a week and a half of maintenance work.

"The probability is strong that escalators will continue to be out of service during December," he said. "We recognize these events have caused a difficult situation for our patrons at Dupont Circle. We are pushing to have this work completed quickly, however the units will be returned to service only when we deem them to be safe."

Those units share all the problems common to Metro escalators: They're long, run all the time the transit system is open, and are exposed to the elements.

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By Robert Thomson  |  November 23, 2009; 8:06 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Dupont Circle, Metrorail, Red Line, escalators  
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Why do you always back Metro's maintenance jobs program to the hilt? A brand new escalator install can be put in in under two weeks. Meanwhile, Metro's many union technicians can 'repair' an escalator in nothing less than two months.

Stop excusing incompetence and fraud.

Posted by: ebenezercrabbe | November 23, 2009 9:48 AM | Report abuse

There were more than a couple occassions initially when all three escalators were out of service, requiring passengers to walk the entire set of stairs to the street level. The length of time that has passed since the escalators were shut down is simply unacceptable, even more so due to the fact that not once in the past several weeks have I even seen anyone working on them. How can a two-month repair project possibly be justified at one of the most trafficked stops in the system?

Posted by: Jack45 | November 23, 2009 9:56 AM | Report abuse

To Ebenezer Crabbe: A brand new install can be put in under two weeks? Any basis for that claim? This is one of the longest escalators in the world. I seriously doubt it's a two-week project. Of course, everything is easy to those who don't do it or understand what's involved.

Posted by: bflorhodes | November 23, 2009 11:29 AM | Report abuse

I don't know about Ebenezer but yes, new Escalators in new office or retail applications with vertical changes of 20 to 30 feet are frequently installed in 7 to 10 business days from scratch. I've done a few in DC and NOVA in some office buildings and stores I've built.

I am a resident of DC and have always scratched my head as to the reasons why it takes our unseemly high paid labor union force months to make what should be repairs lasting less than a week. I frequently see repairmen on scene less than 4 or 5 hours a day. Why aren't they there all day, and all night when the system is closed so they can more easily work? The difference between Metro's repair track record, and any other commercial enterprise is that businesses enter into maintenance agreements with the manufacturers of said escalators or elevators, and they usually show up the same day they are called to address the issue. Metro prefers to employ, as we've seen in many previous articles, repairmen making well into the 6 figures with all the "overtime" who still take weeks and months to do anything.

It's ludicrous, especially in a situation like Dupont where you have escalators that are ~190 feet long. You can't expect the the roughly 25,000 people who use that station every day to walk up a huge flight of stairs like that.

Lastly, I've written letter after letter, and attended numeous metro public open houses over the years and recommended it every time, yet nothing. For people who havent' been, every European public transit or commercial business/retail escalator I have ever been on is off more than it is on. They are rigged with pressure sensors at the ends so they are off until you walk up to it. Where there is no one riding it, its off. We just put a series of them in a new office building in Tyson's and for the life of me I can't understand why metro wouldn't retrofit it's existing ~500 escalators with the feature. Not only would it save them a fortune in power bills, but probably reduce the wear and tear on them by 1/3rd or a nearly a half, allowing them to last vastly longer between repairs.

After 8pm at nights and early morning on weekends I'll sit on the platform waiting for a train for 12-15 minutes and not see another soul use the escalators...yet they run.

I guess Metro uses this as some sort of ill advised jobs program to keep their 6 figure earning repairmen employed.

Posted by: Nosh1 | November 23, 2009 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Unions are awful, the United States would be a better place if we could rid ourselves of organized labor.

Posted by: kenk3 | November 23, 2009 4:57 PM | Report abuse

So how about a story comparing how Metro stacks up against other transit systems? How do our over-paid boobs stack up against their over-paid boobs?

I have been a heavy user of public transit for over 40 years, riding systems in many different cities. I rode Metro in its early days when it was a system the nation could be proud of. Today I'm sad to see a system brought to its knees by years of poor management.

Posted by: washpest | November 23, 2009 7:43 PM | Report abuse

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