Giving Metro escalator a rest could curtail failures

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

It finally happened! All three escalators at the north entrance of the Dupont Circle Metro station were closed for several days this month, and all three at the Van Ness-UDC Station were out of order when I got off the train on Dec. 17.

Some of the deepest stations -- Rosslyn, Dupont Circle, Tenleytown-AU, Van Ness, Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan and Friendship Heights -- have three or four escalators. They are seldom needed at the same time, and I suspect that, because these escalators are very long and thus somewhat fragile, the architects and engineers built extra escalators with the idea of keeping them in reserve in case of breakdowns.

I wrote to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in 2002 that the outage of all escalators at major stations was a serious risk and could be avoided by turning off the third and fourth escalators at such stations during non-rush-hour times. At stations such as Van Ness and Woodley Park, where rush-hour traffic is not so heavy, the system could get by with only two escalators, maintaining the third in reserve.

Not only would turning off the escalators outside rush hour provide a reserve against breakdowns, but it would also save on maintenance and electric power expenses. When budgets are under stress, shouldn't every effort be made to save money?

But my advice has been ignored, and thus the breakdowns last week on six long escalators. I'm sure it has happened at Rosslyn and other stations, as well.

Metro is an outstanding system, and I use it daily. Washington would be a dying city without it. It is most unfortunate that it has received so little TLC over the years.

William T. Breer, Washington

© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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