Maintenance, not replacement, is key to Metro's escalator problems, official says

Metro's budget and workforce for maintaining escalators and elevators have dropped relative to the growing number of machines, leading to numerous breakdowns and headaches.
By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 18, 2010; 8:33 PM

Metro Interim General Manager Richard Sarles said Thursday that basic maintenance is the solution to the transit system's perennial escalator woes, rather than a long-term and costly replacement plan.

"We cannot lose focus on the day-to-day maintenance in the hopes the capital plan will get you there," Sarles told Metro's board of directors, as several members questioned whether it is time to replace the escalators, many of which were installed four decades ago.

Metro Deputy General Manager Dave Kubicek estimated that new escalators would cost $1 million each. Said Sarles: "It will cost you a lot of money" and time.

The debate came after recent inspections and audits revealed serious problems with the rail system's escalators. An independent audit uncovered widespread deficiencies in Metro's escalator brakes as well as a lack of adherence to escalator maintenance standards.

Metro inspected its 588 escalators and their roughly 950 braking assemblies this month in the wake of an accident caused by a malfunction of brakes on an escalator at L'Enfant Plaza that injured six people.

According to Metro Deputy Chief of Rail Safety Robert Maniuszko, 568 escalators have been inspected and 40 brakes have been replaced. Ten brakes were found to be oily. Sixteen escalators with worn brake pads were taken out of service and are awaiting repair parts. Twenty escalators were not checked because they are undergoing major repairs or overhauls, but will be examined before being returned to service, he said.

An investigation found that all three brakes were compromised on the L'Enfant Plaza escalator that failed on Oct. 30, when packed with passengers coming from a rally. One brake had "oily, dirty" pads, one showed brake pad wear "down to the metal" and one had a loose screw and "erratic performance," Maniuszko told board members Thursday.

Pads on one of the three brakes were replaced during periodic maintenance Aug. 21, he said.

In addition, he said documents from an inspection on Sept. 28 on that escalator, as well as interviews with the mechanics who performed the inspection, indicated that all three brakes had been tested, and based on those tests, "Metro would not have considered taking this unit out of service."

Asked how the escalator could have failed so soon after an inspection, and whether mechanics may not have performed the tests, Kubicek said those questions are part of the investigation.

Sarles acknowledged that Metro had too many faulty escalators. Asked by board member Jim Graham if he were surprised by the number of problems uncovered, Sarles said, "We shouldn't have a number like that."

Kubicek told the board that Metro is trying to hire more supervisors and is increasing technician training.

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