Sound Transit’s rider-hostile escalator policy is under scrutiny right now, but there are similar problems with escalators in the Metro-run Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT), extensively renovated for light rail in 2008.
To take one example, the up escalator at the 3rd & University tunnel entrance was inoperative from March 14th to April 3rd “due to a problem with the handrail drive system,” in the words of Metro’s Scott Gutierrez. “Repairs were completed as soon as Kone had a crew available.”
Given that this is a rather long climb, I asked Gutierrez why they didn’t simply switch the down escalator to go up. He provided this very detailed response:
In some cases, we can reverse the adjacent escalator to go up instead of down while the up escalator is out of service. We did not do so in this situation because it requires safety adjustments that are very time-intensive. This is because the step chains wear differently when running in an opposite direction (most people tend to stand to the right, which causes the right side of the chain to stretch more than the left). This difference can cause the escalator to malfunction when running in the opposite direction unless the step chains are adjusted so that the treads will align correctly with the combs at the opposing end. Sometimes it can take as long to complete that process as it does to repair the escalator that is out of service. If there are complications, that can lead to both escalators being out of service. So we consider several other factors, such as: How long will it take to repair the other escalator? What other conveyance options are nearby? Are any public events scheduled during the forecasted down time? In this case, we considered these factors and decided the best option was to stay on track with the original plan and repair schedule.
The moral of the story, I guess, is that even seemingly simple fixes turn out to be really complicated. It’s actually easier to fix the escalator than reverse the other one. What’s apparent is that the contract with Kone doesn’t require a particularly high level of service, and we can expect long outages in the future.