Metro installs manager to fix escalator and elevator systems

February 25, 2011

Metro has created a senior managerial position to oversee the system’s problematic escalators and will speed up some repairs after reports of chronic maintenance deficiencies and faulty equipment.

David Lacosse, who has been director of Metro’s escalator and elevator office for about seven years, will report to Rodrigo Bitar, who has been named to the new position of general superintendent of elevator and escalator programs.

Metro Assistant General Manager Dave Kubicek made the appointment last month. The reorganization was first reported by the Washington Examiner.

The goal of the appointment is to “strengthen the leadership of the program, particularly with respect to quality assurance,” Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said in an e-mail.

Bitar, a veteran engineer, is faced with tackling a perennial problem for the transit agency. Lengthy escalator outages have been a frequent source of customer complaints as Metro has fallen behind in maintaining its 588 escalators and 275 elevators, which are an integral part of the system.

One of Bitar’s priorities in coming months will be to supervise the implementation of recommendations made in an independent review of escalators and elevators ordered by Interim General Manager Richard Sarles last summer and released in the fall.

The 308-page assessment by the firm Vertical Transportation Excellence (VTX) concluded that Metro was not adhering to its own maintenance standards. It also uncovered widespread potential for the brakes on Metro escalators to malfunction. The report’s recommendations included refresher training on escalator maintenance and quality control for Metro employees, hiring additional supervisors and improving the system for tracking maintenance work.

Metro undertook a systemwide inspection of its escalators and escalator brakes after an Oct. 30 incident at L’Enfant Plaza Station that injured six passengers. An investigation into that incident found that the brakes had worn and oily pads and failed to hold the crowded escalator in place so it slid downward, causing passengers to run off or fall in a pile at the bottom. The systemwide inspection identified dozens of problematic escalator brakes and led to multiple emergency repairs, which Metro officials said had been completed.

The agency announced last week that it would accelerate an overhaul of eight escalators at Gallery Place and Union Station.

Bitar has more than 17 years of experience in engineering and quality control, Farbstein said. He joined Metro in early 2008 and worked as director of quality assurance and warranty, working on improving maintenance processes, Farbstein said. Before joining Metro, he worked for Delphi Automotive and General Motors, she said.

This spring, VTX plans to send a team to review how well Metro is implementing the recommendations in its assessment, which included a physical inspection of 30 Metro escalators and nine elevators at Dupont Circle, Bethesda, Foggy Bottom and Woodley Park stations, where Metro has had some of its worst escalator problems.

“We’re going to spot-check the punch list and look at our recommendations and see how they are doing on them,” said Patrick J. Welch, VTX president. “It’s going to address any of the process changes in the software, procedures [and] how often they follow up.”

The VTX assessment raised questions about escalator brakes and their “ability to stop and hold with full passenger load,” the report said.

Welch said that VTX had been asked to do more consulting work focused on problems with Metro’s escalator brakes.

Metro has hundreds of Westinghouse Modular escalators, which are considered outmoded and problematic by industry experts.

tysona@washpost.com

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