Metro to replace Dupont Circle escalators

January 23, 2012

Tired of seeing the escalators at the south entrance of Metro’s Dupont Circle station broken and standing still?

Relief could be coming — albeit in eight months or so.

Starting Feb. 1, the south entrance will close so heavy equipment can be brought in as crews start tearing out the three escalators to install new ones. Metro is contracting the work to Switzerland-based Schindler Group as part of a contract worth about $12 million.

Metro has not closed an entrance of a station for that long for escalator replacement work in recent memory, according to Metro officials. The south escalators at Dupont Circle are among the least reliable of Metro’s 588 escalators, officials have said.

Crews at Dupont Circle will work days, nights and weekends to try to do the work at the 19th Street NW entrance as fast as possible, said Dan Stessel, Metro’s chief spokesman.

In September, officials had warned the job could take a year, but Stessel said they will work with Schindler to speed up the project.

“We are going to get it done as quickly and safely as we can,” he said.

Installing escalators at the Dupont stop is difficult because the station is so deep underground. According to Metro, the escalators rise 85 feet and have 291 steps.

The Dupont entrance was originally built for two escalators, not three, leaving little room to work. Another problem is that the manufacturer who made the Dupont south escalator has gone out of that business, making it hard to find replacement parts, officials have said.

Metro said it will station personnel at Dupont’s north entrance on Q Street NW to help manage crowds and direct the 50,000 riders who go through the station on a weekday. Escalator mechanics will be on hand so they can respond quickly to any escalator problems at the north entrance.

A spiral staircase has been installed in the ventilation shaft area near the south side of the Dupont station for use in an emergency. Stessel said there will be one escalator at the south entrance that can be used as a staircase, but only in an emergency.

In July 2010, multiple escalator failures at the station caused chaos and safety and health concerns as thousands of commuters made the long trek to the surface.

Metro officials are encouraging riders to use the escalators at the north entrance of Dupont Circle or to get off at Farragut North.

At the Farragut North station, Metro last week moved a large barrier placed there to facilitate repair work. The equipment and barrier made the station platform very narrow for people walking by.

The work at Farragut North, which has gone on since 2010, will resume after the escalator project at Dupont is completed, Stessel said.

Metro’s escalator and elevator repair division has long had troubles, a source of frustration for riders because many of the transit authority’s stations are far underground and there are few staircases. Metro has more escalators than any other transit authority in the country.

Seventy-five percent of Metro’s escalators are more than 25 years old. Four manufacturers that made parts for them are out of business, and the escalators haven’t been properly maintained over the years, according to Metro officials and an independent audit.

During the next five years, Metro plans to replace 94 of its escalators at a cost of more than $200 million.

The escalators at the Bethesda station are set to be replaced starting in 2014. Metro installed three new escalators at Foggy Bottom last year.

Monday afternoon, Metro’s Web site showed 55 escalators, or 9 percent, were out of service for either unexpected outages or scheduled maintenance.

Dana Hedgpeth is the Washington Post’s lead reporter in covering the Metro rail and bus systems in the D.C. region and the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) that runs them.
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