By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 12, 2008
Metro officials are investigating whether a brake failure caused an escalator at the busy Gallery Place Station to malfunction during the morning rush Wednesday, throwing 10 to 15 people backward when the stopped unit suddenly started going in reverse.
Two people were treated at a hospital for scrapes and bruises, a Metro spokesman said.
Alexandria resident Andrea Grenadier, 52, said she was halfway up the escalator when, "all of a sudden, it began moving backward very fast," she said. "We were all tossed backward, screaming." She injured her lip and tailbone, she said.
The escalator had been working earlier in the week. But about 8:10 a.m. Wednesday, a safety mechanism shut it down and the escalator was stopped, spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said. Out-of-service escalators are common for Metro, which has 588 escalators, more than any other agency in North America. But officials said it is rare for one to go into rapid reverse. "We don't know why the unit started moving in the opposite direction," Taubenkibel said. If the brake had failed, it is possible the weight of people on the unit caused it to move downward, officials said.
The escalator has been taken out of service. Gallery Place has 30 escalators.
For the presidential inaugural, Metro is planning to stop all down escalators as a safety precaution to prevent people from piling up on crowded station platforms. They have not decided whether up escalators will be operating.
In Wednesday's incident, passengers were walking up the stopped escalator, which goes from the lower level Yellow and Green line platforms to the Red Line platform on the upper level.
Stacey Luces, 31, was almost at the top of the escalator. When it started going in reverse, "I tried running up, but it was going down so fast I lost my footing. . . . I looked backward and screamed when I saw everybody at the bottom in this big heap."
Another rider told passengers that he tried to hit the emergency stop button, Luces said. "But it didn't work."