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Escalators used by Metro have history of trouble

Unlike most escalators, which have motors and brakes at the top, the Westinghouse is built in segments, with brakes and motors in each segment at different points along the incline.

The design requires more maintenance, which also takes more time, said an expert on escalator drive systems who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

"They are just notorious for being noisy and [having] poor ride quality. Particularly as you pass over each of these drives, it's a bump in the road," he said.

Mechanics must constantly adjust the load between the different drive systems, and an imbalance can cause extra wear on one brake, he said.

Metro Assistant General Manager David Kubicek said during a presentation to Metro's board of directors last month that Metro has had a fluctuating escalator maintenance plan, a shortage of supervisors and a failure to adhere to its own standards.

"The escalator and elevator equipment has been heavily contracted out, brought in, heavily contracted out - its kind of been almost . . . an orphan type of approach on where you really find a home for it so you can start addressing these issues," he said.

Metro lacks "follow-through" on maintenance standards, he said, in part because retirements have cut into the ranks of supervisors, and those on the job tend to work in offices rather than in the field.

"The biggest thing is to get very aggressive about getting supervisors in here," Kubicek said. "We have to have more of a hands-on approach . . . instead of just going through a checklist."

Another problem, experts said, is that unlike buses or rail cars, escalators are constantly in use and cannot be removed to a yard for regular maintenance.

"There is pressure in all transit agencies to provide the amount of time to do effective preventive maintenance," said Patrick J. Welch, chairman of the Elevator Escalator Technical Forum at the American Public Transportation Association, which has formed a working group to address maintenance standards for escalators and elevators across the country.

"It's a battle between accessibility to the public and performing effective preventive maintenance," said Welch, who is president of VTX but declined to comment specifically on the company's work with Metro.

"The pressure to get these things back in service so quickly can sometimes turn into 'just get the thing turned back on again,' " he said.

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