Escalators at UW station, after failing spectacularly on several occasions in 2018, are now working well. After a series of changes to improve maintenance, downtime has been greatly reduced and Sound Transit is now comfortable postponing a full replacement of the escalators. The good news at UW allows Sound Transit to turn its attention to the planned takeover of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel in 2021. There, the agency is anticipating an unexpectedly steep bill to replace nearly all of the elevators and escalators.
The opening of the back stairs at UW station in March 2019 relieved loads at peak times. There is a new contractor for maintenance, with technicians on-site weekdays. A pre-positioned inventory of spare parts is available to to quickly bring escalators back on line when an outage occurs. This year, work was completed on a public passage between the sub-mezzanines.
While Sound Transit acknowledges the upgrades have not been stress-tested with higher ridership, escalator availability at UW this year has been 98.5% and elevators at 99.5%. Availability has remained high even as Sound Transit took advantage of low traffic to accelerate repairs requiring planned outages.
Elevator availability is now meeting the 97% goal at all Sound Transit stations but Beacon Hill (at 91% this year). Escalator availability is also generally meeting the 95% goal, and is over 92% at every station managed by Sound Transit.
The escalator problems at UW started with cost-cutting on the original installation. In 2018, Sound Transit figured it would be necessary to replace the installed escalators with more robust ‘transit grade’ escalators. Having achieved such high availability recently at UW, that now seems unneeded. Instead, it is pausing work at UW and turning its attention to the greater challenges in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT).
Sound Transit is now anticipated to take ownership of the DSTT in 2021, after some delays. When it does so, it will inherit a system of 36 escalators and 22 elevators across four stations, virtually all of which are beyond their useful service life (ordinarily 25 years). The challenges with older conveyances in these stations have long vexed Metro. Westlake and University St, in particular, have seen elevator and escalator availability this year hover in the 80% range. As of last week, 12 of the 36 escalators were out of service.
Despite having been fired by Sound Transit, KONE remains the vendor for DSTT conveyances. Sound Transit contracts with Schindler Elevator for maintenance inside their stations. Sound Transit has estimated $8.7 million in deferred elevator and escalator maintenance repairs in 2021 just to get them “to a baseline of safety and performance”, but is also planning a larger multi-year capital replacement plan for vertical conveyances in the DSTT.
CEO Peter Rogoff was blunt in his assessment of the historic maintenance in the DSTT:
The elevators and escalators we’re taking over from King County Metro in those four DSTT stations … are considerably older and have really suffered from, I’m not going to call it neglect, but inadequate repair regimes to keep them up and running. There’s one escalator at University St that has been down and ripped open for two years and seemingly no progress has been made to even address it until we take it over.
How large is the cost of remediating the issues in the DSTT? Rogoff didn’t cite a number, but indicated the “resources to do very intensive work on those four stations” would be material to this Fall’s new financial plan and next year’s discussions about realigning projects. It seems likely to exceed the $52 million capital replacement estimate shared with the Citizen Oversight Panel last Fall.