Out of service escalators at Westlake Station.
Credit: Bruce Englehardt

Last Thursday’s Rider Experience Committee meeting featured an update on the parlous state of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel’s escalators. While the overall system has recovered from some early hiccups with the three new stations, the current snapshot* shows 1 elevator and 13 escalators out of service, all in the DSTT. This involves all four stations, which have 36 escalators in total. None of these have an official repair date.

Deputy Director of Vertical Conveyances John Carini reports that four of these outages are due to “water intrusion” issues and they hope to recover these by mid-November. A source reports that the narrow street-level up escalator for the NE corner of Pioneer Square is among these four.

Astoundingly, this a substantial improvement from Sound Transit’s assumption of maintenance responsibility on January 1st, when 28 of 58 elevators and escalators were down after Metro intentionally neglected them in favor of operating more buses.

Mr. Carini outlined some of the difficulties in building a schedule to replace these devices and comprehensively solve the problem, and did not offer such a schedule in this presentation.

One challenge Carini noted was 24 incidents of “passenger misuse” of these systems. He did not elaborate, but this is surely part of the reason we can’t have nice things.

*allegedly updated “every 24 hours,” but not since November 1.

47 Replies to “DSTT escalators still a problem”

  1. If it makes you feel any better, I was just shopping at the REI and Trader Joes in Bellevue the other day; the escalator between the two levels was offline and blocked off, so I had to walk all the way to the other end of the parking lot to find the stairs.

    It was like being in Westlake Station, except this was a shopping center, rather than a transit hub.

    1. Northgate has had five outages so far. Don’t know how long they lasted but they’ve been out on weekday rush hour mornings at least five times. Quality stuff from ST.

    2. @MO.

      Ya, ST has had a few escalator outages at the new stations. I suspect these are teething problems, but we will see. And theoretically at least the escalators should still be under warranty.

      That said, the station designs have really validated ST’s new station design standards. All stations have redundant systems and accessible stairs. It’s a vast improvement over earlier designs.

  2. The University Street station escalator at the 3rd and Seneca entrance has been out for ages. Same with the escalator up from the northbound platform.

    The Roosevelt escalator issues are even more embarrassing. One month since opening!

    “Water infringement issues”, my foot… who would’ve thought that it rains in Seattle.

    1. University St is my daily commute and the south escalators to the street have been out for months. Elevators are also frequently out. It makes for a poor rider experience for able bodied riders and worse for mobility impaired people.

      What is it that makes these impossible to fix? Is it money? Lack of repair technicians? Parts?

      Maybe an attorney needs to file an ADA lawsuit to get this moving. That’s why the city is finally installing curb cuts.

  3. “Dig We Must”?

    This has the earmarks of an “Escalator Mafia”.

    I’m assuming “Escalator Repairman” isn’t an ST position, and that this whole thing is contracted out.
    Sounds like a good subject for an investigative reporter! Sam?

  4. “Deputy Director of Vertical Conveyances John Carini reports…”

    Maybe therein lies the problem. A “Deputy Director” for this function? So, to whom does Mr. Carini report? How many layers does one need to go to find accountability?

    1. Deputy Director is a job band. He could report to a Director, a Deputy Executive Director, an Executive Director, or presumably directly to the CEO or Board.

      1. I think you need to take a few minutes looking at a current org chart. Plus the only individual who reports directly to the board is CEO Rogoff.

    2. Ok, so I looked up an org chart that CEO Rogoff submitted with his February 2021 “Application for Re-Certification of Public Body to use Design-Build Delivery Method” (to the State of Washington Capital Projects Advisory Review Board, Project Review Committee) pursuant to RCW 39.10.270. In said application, Rogoff included a complete org chart for the agency as of January 2021.

      Here’s the actual reporting structure indicated in the chart:
      John Carini, Deputy Director, Vertical Conveyances, reports directly to Rob Taft, Director, Facilities, who reports to Michelle Walker, Deputy Executive Director, Facilities and Systems Maintenance, who reports to the Operations Group Executive Director, Suraj Setti.

      It looks to be a small department within the Ops group, listing just four EEs. Below Mr. Carini, there is just one direct report, Carlos Trujillo, Manager, Vertical
      Conveyances who is responsible for a Program Manager and Senior Coordinator positions. Oddly, per the org chart, Mr. Carini’s lateral peers within the Ops group all bear the title Manager, not Deputy Director.

      At the time of the submission from CEO Rogoff, the Ops group had a head count of 232. The other departments were shown as follows:
      Executive- 195
      Planning, Environment & Project Development- 98
      DECM- 327
      Operations- 232
      Procurement- 54
      Safety- 58
      Legal- 26
      Finance- 73

      Total EEs- 1,063

      As some of you may know, The News Tribune has been keeping a database of salaries for several public entities, including Sound Transit, for several years. The 2020 report for ST, just updated in October, is linked below. All staff employed by the agency at any time during the year show up in the database. Mr. Carini is included in the 2020 db in his current capacity as Deputy Director, Vertical Conveyances.



  5. Let’s see…..ST took over escalator maintenance back in January when 28 of the escalators were down. Now, just 10 months later, ST already has that number down to 13.

    That is a 55% reduction in out of service escalators in just 10 months. Given the lead time on these things, and given the fact that Metro wouldn’t even let ST do site assessments before the hand over, I’d say that is pretty darn good.

    Will this problem in the DSLRT be gone by January (the one year anniversary of ST taking over maintenance)? Probably not. Metro neglected maintenance for decades. It will take awhile to overcome their neglect.

    As per why we can’t have good things: There will always be user issues. There will always be someone who does something stupid, or drug or alcohol induced. That is to be expected — and planned for.

    The problem is that Metro didn’t plan for such things, and didn’t fix correct them when they occurred. Their response was simply to drive the DSLRT into the ground. No maintenance. That is why we can’t have good things. And that is why we can’t trust Metro with infrastructure like the DSLRT ever again.

    And keep in mind, escalators are just the most visible affect of Metro’s neglect. You can bet your last dollar that Metro neglected a lot more than just escalators. And it will take ST a long time to fix all that.

    1. “You can bet your last dollar that Metro neglected a lot more than just escalators”

      Good point. If they wouldn’t maintain the stuff out in the open that really is vital for a lot of people, then what in the back rooms and corridors did they leave neglected? It’s a bit scary to think about.

    2. How do you explain escalator problems at non-DSTT stations, notably University of Wash. station?

      Lazarus, did you get a job at ST? So defensive when they’ve shown themselves to be bad with escalators too. There’s plenty of blame to go around.

      Let’s not even talk about how ST can’t even keep the next train arriving technology working a decade after Link opened. They aren’t perfect.

      1. Ah, nice try, but no. You are wrong.

        ST initially did have problems with UWS escalators – lots of problems. But they fixed them. Now UWS escalator availability stands at 99%! That is pretty darn good, and that is according to the Seattle Times which will normally do anything to trash ST.

        The Metro escalators that ST inherited in the DSLRT? The very best one is at only 74% availability. The worst is at only 22%. Pretty darn pathetic.


        And for the record, I have never worked at, consulted for, or volunteered for ST. Nor do I ever intend to. I just prefer fact based discussions to fantasy.

      2. So you are saying that ST is great at repairing bad escalators that they built, but not so good at fixing escalators that someone else built. OK, got it.

  6. Sidenote; Roosevelt has the coolest looking escalators. The long light that lines the sides are a special touch.

  7. Two simple words: escalator redundancy

    Oh… and a reset of the 95% standard. Where there are two escalators, leave it at 95 percent but for one set it at 97 percent.

    1. Lol, maybe ST staff are playing 3D chess and this is all a part of a long game to save money by convincing the public we should build shallower/at-grade stations.

    2. That would have been tough at most of the stations. You have to get under the canal, which is why UW is so deep. Capitol Hill is well, a hill. It just wouldn’t work. The U-District station was bound to be deep because the UW station is deep. Roosevelt was originally supposed to be elevated, but they moved it over. I’m not sure if any form of cut and cover would have worked there.

      The only place where I think cut and cover could have worked is Rainier Valley. But the train runs on the surface, so no escalators at all. They might be able to do cut-and-cover to Ballard, but again, a surface alignment would be cheaper. You still have to cross the canal somehow (the big challenge). I could potentially see an elevated line going into the ground (cut and cover) with the planned Ballard line (at 14th) but I have no idea if that is feasible. My guess is it would be way too high. The final section of a Ballard to UW line could be done cut and cover (from about 8th to 24th), but most of it would be deep bore.

      1. Whether or not past stations could have been done cut and cover is immaterial at this point. What is important is that these stations with escalators have given ST a lot of experience with escalators.

        If they were smart ST would take that experience and use it to inform their choices going forward at station locations where cut and cover is a viable option, because it certainly seems that every escalator added becomes a perpetual sinkhole of maintenance and repair cost.

      2. @jas,

        All non-surface ST Link stations have in fact been cut-and-cover. The only exception has been Beacon Hill which was deep mined, because, you know, it is a hill! And deep!

        But if you are really advocating for cut-and-cover tunneling, then forget it. Will never happen. Too expensive, too disruptive, and you can’t go cross grid. Plus Seattle is hilly. Bored tunnels free you from that constraint, cut-and-cover not so much.

      3. “But if you are really advocating for cut-and-cover tunneling, then forget it. Will never happen. ”

        Not what I said, so please don’t put words in my mouth.
        Nor did I say anything about how existing stations were built.

        I only said for ST to lend more weight to its escalator experience when and where cut and cover stations make sense in the future.

        For example: the new tunnel station at ID where both cut and cover, and deep options are proposed. Go deep and deal with many more long escalators and the associated long term repair/maintenance costs, and oh by the way make it harder on riders (but easier in the short term on the surrounding businesses), or go cut and cover with fewer escalators and a better ridership experience. yes?

      4. There is always the Metro North – Park Avenue approach (also done near King Street station). Build the rails at grade, and build a street like a bridge with adjacent sidewalks and storefronts on top of it. No tunneling required!

      5. A shallow New IDS makes much more sense than a deep version. It allows Midtown to be shallower as well as improving the transfer experience for its own passengers. It’s much cheaper, too, even including impact payments to ID businesses.

    3. Just a few comments:

      1. The upcoming ST stations are technically “cut” or more accurately dug to create station vaults. It’s the train tunnels between stations that are bored.

      2. Light rail tunnels must be taller so that they can have overhead catenaries. For tunneling, that means the round bite must also be wider. On the plus side, the bigger amount of tunnel empty space diminishes any strong air woosh before the train arrives.

      3. There are lots of things under streets, like gas, water, sanitary and stormwater pipes. It’s not like digging out a basement on a house lot. Trying to dodge those things isn’t easy. Ask Bertha.

      1. Just a few comments:

        1). All existing ST underground stations are in fact cut and cover except for Beacon Hill which was deep mined and has no escalators.

        Station depth is at the minimum depth that local geometry and geology allow. This is to reduce costs and improve accessibility.

        2). Overhead OCS has no significant effect on tunnel diameter. Link trains operate underground with their pantographs mainly retracted. The pantographs are in fact only about a foot above the rooftop mounted systems boxes.

        While you could theoretically remove the pantographs AND relocate the systems boxes to other locations to gain another foot or so of clearance, it just isn’t worth it. Low floor cars don’t have a lot of interior space to be repurposed, and many of those boxes need cooling and airflow. The roof is the obvious and best location.

        Additionally, it is not the static envelope that determines min LRV tunnel clearance, but rather the dynamic envelope. Link pantographs are located over the center truck to more accurately maintain relative geometry with the track and ultimately with the OCS. This is not true of areas between the trucks, particularly on curves.

        I’m not sure what part of a Link LRV actually sets min clearance. I find the ST technical personnel to be extremely responsive to properly formatted questions like this, but I have just never considered tunnel diameter to be an important question, so I have never made the specific enquiry.

        3). Regarding the breeze produced by an LRV when approaching the platform at an underground station, savvy users of underground transit know exactly what this breeze means and will hurry to the platform level to catch their train – no real-time arrival info or audio announcement required. Ya, there is a 50-50 chance it is a train going your direction, but it is still better than potentially missing a train.

        And for the record, it is called the “piston effect”

      2. Al, to be a bit more precise, what felled Bertha was its bearings, not the pipe, though of course it didn’t help.

        And the pipe was a deep dewatering device to help stabilize the Pioneer Square fill, not an ordinary utility.

        You are very right that utilities are often a big problem with any cut and cover excavation, the bigger and older the street, the more severe. It’s just not germane to Bertha’s problems; it was a bored tunnel anyway.

      3. 3). Regarding the breeze produced by an LRV when approaching the platform at an underground station, savvy users of underground transit know exactly what this breeze means and will hurry to the platform level to catch their train – no real-time arrival info or audio announcement required.

        [This is really better addressed on the previous blog post, but since you mentioned it …]

        Yes, this gives a rider a warning that the train is coming — typically about 30 seconds. But it is not a substitute for RTA. There are cases where it is very helpful to know when the train is coming. The most common is when you approach the platform. Knowing when the train is coming allows you to decide whether to hustle or not. Another is when you are deciding to use the bathroom or not. These become issues when the train is running infrequently (about every ten minutes), but aren’t a big deal if the train is running frequently.

      4. I’ve actually noticed the breeze as early as 1-2 minutes before the train arrives, although it does get more noticeable as it gets closer.

        From a disability standpoint, I would expect people who are blind to be very savvy with the breeze. They have adapted to pick up on the slightest auditory or tactile cues that most people wouldn’t notice.

  8. If there’s a Deputy Director of Vertical Conveyances, that most likely means there’s a Director of Vertical Conveyances, and an Assistant Deputy Director of Vertical Conveyances. And, I would imagine all three have been “working from home” for the last year and a half.

  9. The escalator and elevator problem should have been addressed during the 2 year shut down between 2005 and 2007. At that time, the tunnel infostructure was almost 16 years old. It wasn’t broken, but aging. Both Metro and Sound Transit knew the tunnel would be used by more riders. They both knew it would be train and bus. And both knew busses were temporary.

    I believe the reason these issues were not addressed was because of the over budget issues relating to light rail to that date. Getting light rail back on track to opening by 2009 made taking short cuts a justified decision. And the public back then probably would have agreed. Any politicians wanting to finally see a light rail system open in Seattle, probably turned a blind eye to the potential future problems. Even if they did not create it. Just to see a 13 mile section open. The other politicians saw right through the problems. And they promoted the Monorail project 2 years earlier. Just kidding. (A little not kidding). Can you blame them? It isn’t right. It is just an unfortunate left over part of the dark chapter of light rail history in Seattle. Now it is time to finally fix and clean it up. No matter how expensive it becomes.

    If the only part of Line 1 that had elevator/escalator problems was in DSTT, then of course Metro is partially to blame. But Soud Transit has been around since around 1995 or something. There is no way they did not watch the condition of the tunnel over those years. Both agencies knew. Both ignored it. I just don’t remember elevators or escalators failing on opening day 1 in 1990. But that did happen on at least day 1 or 2 at the 3 new stations this last month. Who is to blame for that?

    1. @Jimmy,

      Ah, no, you are just making things up.

      Back during the DSTT shutdown for retrofit for (functional) rail, the facility was 100% owned, operated, and maintained by Metro. The fact that Metro didn’t fix the escalators back then, or at any point leading up to 2021, is purely on Metro. It was theirs, it was their funding and revenue stream, their maintenance program. and they decided to run it into the ground.

      ST didn’t even take over escalator maintenance until January of this year, but they have already reduced the number of out of service escalators by about half. Still not where they need to be, but ST isn’t god, it will take them awhile to fix what they inherited from Metro.

      And my understanding is that ST doesn’t even officially own the tunnel yet. Ya, there is a framework for ownership, but last I heard the official transfer was still being held up by as-builds and easements. Apparently the Metro legal description of what the DSLRT actually represents is in about as good a shape as the Metro escalator maintenance program.

  10. At least it’s better than the experience I had in Rome last weekend where multiple stations had broken escalators and elevators out of order enough to render some stations inaccessible for disabled passengers. Alongside broken turnstiles and ticket machines. For all the problems ST has, it’s at least not ATAC Roma (Tramways and Buses Company of the Municipality of Rome)

  11. Just got off the Link at the UDistrict station and one of the escalators is already broken.

    1. I saw that today. Roosevelt and Northgate have also had broken escalators in their first month of operations.

  12. I understand how deeply distressing this situation can be. We all have to remember that life has it’s ups and downs. Sometimes you’re on the up and up but in others you’re on your way down into hell. Also, the world is coming to an end because of the inevitable climate apocalypse that the use of escalators contributes too. Use stairs you lazy ragamuffins!

    1. Most of Seattle’s energy is pretty carbon neutral, and some of us have disabilities that make stairs quite difficult. When it comes to contributors towards climate change, escalators are pretty far down the list.

Comments are closed.