Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Metro now wants to replace far more escalators, not just rehab them

January 13, 2012 - 10:37 AM
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(Photo: Erik Wemple)

Yesterday the Metro Board met again, and as I listened and pondered and heard back and forth on any number of topics, most struck me as more of the same with the exception of one enormous thing — Metro's changed its strategy regarding how to fix its escalators. WMATA is hashing out its final budget, which includes the frustrating provision to raise fares and calls for 1,000 new Metro employees as the transit system expands.

In the past, WMATA had announced that it would be mostly rehabbing old, semi-functional escalators and replacing a select few, such as ones at Dupont Circle Metro station's southern entrance that are about to close for more than eight months. But now that's changed. Here's what you should know about how Metro is changing up its escalator strategy.

"We've come to the conclusion that we're better off replacing more and rehabilitating fewer," WMATA General Manager Richard Sarles told the Metro Board yesterday. He said it makes more sense from a technical standpoint to straight-up replace many of the old escalators.

What will this mean for the next $1.6 billion 2013 fiscal budget and the Metro Forward plans for 2013 to 2018? In addition to replacing 400 railcars and 550 buses and sprucing up vast segments of track and old bus garages (full list of plans here), WMATA now hopes to replace a whopping 94 escalators on top of rehabbing 98. Initially Metro only hoped to replace about a dozen escalators or fewer. What, I wonder, will this shift mean for Metro riders? The overall track and system efforts are needed and wise, but escalators make up one of the most visible parts of Metro. Their dysfunction is nationally known, and their replacement will likely be putting far more escalators out of commission. These numbers are also higher than before. When Metro celebrated the new Foggy Bottom escalators in November, the agency noted "the plan to overhaul or replace 153 escalators at 25 stations on all five rail lines." 153, you say? Earlier this summer, the Post reported it was 140 escalators. The new budget, as it stands this week, suggests 192 will be worked over as we all go forward.

Translation? Metro realized it needed to fix more and in more serious and more expensive ways than initially projected.

Efforts so far have involved the replacement and rehabilitation of just over 40 elevators and escalators, including most notably the brand new ones at Foggy Bottom, the first replaced in 15 years. The system overall has 588 escalators. To give some understanding of costs, the new escalators, canopy, and staircase at Foggy Bottom cost around $6 million. In 2011, WMATA projected spending $150 million on its broken escalators over the next half decade. But even if every new set of escalator replacements costs half as much as Foggy Bottom's fancy new escalators, it'll still far exceed the $150 million projections (if each new set costs just $3 million, for instance, the 94 planned replacements will cost $282 million, and that's not including the escalators Metro plans to rehab).

But here's something to look forward to — WMATA is planning public hearings on this new budget in late February. Not happy about the new fare proposals or what Metro has planned for your commute? Say something. Let your voice be known, riders, and look for the details in the coming weeks.

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