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Note to Metro: Find a fix for faulty escalators and air conditioning

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By Robert Thomson
Sunday, July 25, 2010

"Designers put Metro stations such as Rosslyn and Dupont Circle as deep underground as a skyscraper is high, and put their faith in the most massive escalator system of any subway in the world. Moving staircases got preference over regular stairs and elevators because, engineers figured, they would transport riders to and from trains more easily and evenly.

"But in recent years, the design has blown up in Metro's face. As the Metro system has aged and the need for maintenance has increased, escalators have meant headache after headache for the subway system."

-- Alice Reid,

The Washington Post, Dec. 5, 1998

We can't blame the people at Metro now for design problems created during a previous generation. But the current generation at the transit authority includes some pretty smart people. The consequences of the escalator design have been widely known and discussed since the 1990s. Is it not reasonable to expect that these smart people would be well on their way to solving the problems they inherited?

Instead, the transit authority remains far better at articulating the problems than at solving them. I hope that the review by Metro's consultant, due this fall, will give the transit authority something to act on, whether it's improving the long-term performance of the escalators or guiding us toward a less disruptive maintenance system. What we don't need is another restatement of how many problems Metro faces, legitimate as those problems are.

Meanwhile, riders keep trying to figure out their own engineering solutions, as in this letter.

Put escalators to sleep?

No, old and creaky as they are, we're not talking about putting them out of their misery.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:


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