Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

No escalators worked at the Rosslyn Metro station this morning

September 7, 2011 - 09:33 AM
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Endless walking. (Photo: Ryan Kearney)

All the escalators and elevators from the mezzanine to the upper platform at the Rosslyn Metro station were down this morning, and if you've ever been to Rosslyn, you know this is a nightmare. The escalators are terrifyingly long. A trek by foot to the top is always a feat, and I've spotted multiple people who begin doing so only to regret it halfway through and step aside, breathing heavily and sweating. The length stretches around 97 feet deep into the Earth, which on a working escalator would still take close to two minutes to travel.

Today there's no option — people have just had to suffer their way to the surface. WMATA announced that "escalator system has been restored" shortly after 9 a.m. The escalators first fell completely out of service well over an hour prior to that, from what I can tell, with the first tweeted complaints beginning before 8 a.m.

 What's Metro saying? So far the official word is "a mechanical problem." I've called WMATA and they say they'll follow up with me on the problem's details — I'll update this post once they do. (Updated 11 a.m. to include WMATA's comments). The Rosslyn escalators were ultimately, according to Metro chief spokesperson Dan Stessel, down for 61 minutes, from 8:02 a.m. to 9:03 a.m. "One had a handrail issue," Stessel told me. "The other had an issue with its steps. One was taken out of service because it was making noise." And the fourth? Well, that's still just chalked up to general mechanical issues. At the moment, one ascending and one descending escalator is running in Rosslyn, with two still down.

Chocolate strawberries
A chart from the August Vital Signs report. (Photo: WMATA)

This comes in the wake of news that, according to the Post, WMATA has a "plan to hire an outside contractor to do preventive maintenance on 54 escalators and 20 elevators on the Orange Line from Rosslyn to Vienna." Good. With one in six escalators not operational, the system probably needs to speed things up. We already saw how frustration could build with the perpetually broken Foggy Bottom escalators earlier this summer before the brand new one was installed. I ride on Rosslyn's escalators rather often, and while they've usually functioned well enough, I've seen certain of the long ones out more often than usual lately. After the earthquake, I remember seeing all of them out just like this morning.

Hence the message that WMATA general manager Richard Sarles will have, according to Stessel, for the board tomorrow regarding escalators and the new contractors: "The pace of progress needs to be accelerated."

Metro's latest Vital Signs report, the August one that covers system performance through mid-summer, confirms the growing outages, often ostensibly part of the Metro Forward campaign to better inspect and rehab the system: "Escalator performance stabilized but remained below target as more preventive maintenance inspections resulted in additional repair needs. This results in short-term inconvenience for customers but improved reliability in the longer term." In June, 482 out of 588 escalators worked, the report says. Repeatedly, the WMATA language emphasizes how much of this will be more beneficial in the long run, and it reveals an anxiety regarding customer communication. They hope to alleviate some frustrations with "new MetroForward signage to barricaded escalators to improve communication with customers about the type of maintenance underway and the expected return to service date." Not a bad idea — though anecdotally, I've gotten the impression that the return-to-service dates on those signs can shift rather dramatically. True enough, the price of long-term functionality is often short-term misery, as I've observed before.

Graphically, the escalator system availability's drop, shown above, looks bad and amounts to a more than five percent decrease compared to availability in the summer months of 2010.

Many riders have expressed their concerns about Rosslyn on social media and through video. Here's a selection of what's emerged from the situation so far:

All the escalators & elevator went out at Rosslyn.... And the station smokeyless than a minute ago via TweetList Pro Favorite Retweet Reply

#wmata train operator who gets it: "A reminder customers, all escalators and elevators are out at Rosslyn... I know, right?!"less than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet Reply

Epic #fail for #wmata as the elevator AND escalators are out at #Rosslyn @wmataless than a minute ago via Twitter for Android Favorite Retweet Reply

No working escalators at Rosslyn Metro=shock cardio for the massesless than a minute ago via UberSocial for BlackBerry Favorite Retweet Reply

@wmata elevator is also out, elderly people stuck at the bottom and no announcement on train re situation. thought you should know.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

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