Escalator falls apart at Foggy Bottom Station

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.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 18, 2011; 10:29 PM

A Metro escalator at Foggy Bottom station collapsed Friday morning, creating a gaping hole in the ascending staircase.

Metro spokeswoman Angela Gates said there was no report of injuries when the escalator malfunctioned.

For the Rev. Nathan J. A. Humphrey, the ordeal began when he stepped onto the base plate of the only functioning escalator at the exit to the station, only to be lifted into the air.

"There was a gigantic noise of grinding, clashing and clanging . . . and a gaping hole coming up," said Humphrey, vicar at St. Paul's Parish in Northwest Washington.

He looked up and saw a woman ahead of him falling backward.

"I remember thinking for one terrible second: She will be pulled underneath by these falling steps,'' Humphrey said. But the escalator jerked to a stop, Humphrey leapt onto stable ground and the woman landed on the steps behind her. Humphrey and another man pulled her to safety.

"She was really lucky; she will have only bruises," Humphrey said.

Crews replaced the metal treads so that people could walk on the unit. Metro is investigating what caused the malfunction, Gates said.

The incident marks the second serious ordeal for Metro escalator riders in recent months. On Oct. 30, six people were injured when an escalator with worn and oily brake pads slid backward at L'Enfant Plaza Station, causing passengers to land in a pile at the bottom.

After that event, Metro ordered a systemwide inspection of the escalators, and found dozens of problem escalator brakes and the need for emergency repairs. Metro's 588 escalators are breaking down more often and repairs are taking longer, according to a performance report issued by the transit agency this month.

About two-thirds of the Metro escalator outages are caused by breakdowns, unscheduled repairs and incidents requiring shutdowns, rather than scheduled maintenance, it said. An independent audit this fall uncovered deficiencies in Metro's escalator maintenance standards.

In November riders ascending a stationary escalator at Tenleytown Station encountered a hole where steps should have been.

The latest escalator problem for Metro riders began around 9:15 a.m. Friday when crowds of riders exiting Foggy Bottom station were being herded onto the only operating escalator. Metro recently began a year-long project to replace the three escalators at the exit with new ones and to install a staircase adjacent to the units. One escalator is out of service for that work. Another was stopped to be used as a "walker" for customers going down into the station, according to Metro.

"Stay to the left," a Metro employee directed the crowd, Humphrey recalled. He said he was shocked at how the escalator seemed to fall apart so quickly. Customers higher up on the unit began pulling out their iPhones and taking pictures of the broken contraption, he said.

"So much for staying to your left!" Humphrey remarked to the crowd as he climbed up the stationary escalator and went on his way.

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