Here’s why Capitol Hill Station’s escalators were reversed

Light rail travelers at Capitol Hill Station over the holiday weekend had to do a double-take — or worse:

Riders were surprised to find the “up” escalator was suddenly the “down” escalator — vice versa.

Sound Transit cleared up the mini mystery Tuesday morning. The reversal will be a periodic event sure to enter the lore of Capitol Hill existence like a new kind of solstice or equally wondrous celestial event. The switch is about maintenance, Sound Transit says:

“If you only run an escalator one direction it can get so it only runs that direction and will wear out faster,” the agency explains. Life lesson. And a new event for light rail fans to celebrate — and watch out for before making their next escalator sprint.

UPDATE 7/6/2016: Oops. Now Sound Transit has reversed the reversal:

UPDATE 7/11/2016: It sounds like you had better not get accustomed to escalator directions at CHS or UW Station — Sound Transit says the plan is for the up/down status to be “swapped back and forth” as needed.

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22 thoughts on “Here’s why Capitol Hill Station’s escalators were reversed

  1. I’m surprised there wasn’t a sign or something. Sound Transit- please put a sign up next time! Luckily I’m a shoe-starer so I caught my mistake before stepping on the escalator!

  2. This is funny. We got back in town after the long weekend and were trying to come up with a clever reason for the switch and how it might have been informed by the flow of people through the station. Now I know it’s a much more pragmatic decision :)

  3. I’m surprised anyone had to ask “why?” about this. People must not get out much. It’s pretty widespread practice around the world to switch escalator directions periodically– just like ST said– so they wear evenly and you get maximum lifespan out of them. I thought this was pretty much common knowledge, but apparently not.

    • Great to know! I grew up in a city that has five subway lines and they never switched direction. I guess part of the reason is that their signage could not be changed.

    • Actually, I lived in a city with one of the largest metro systems in the world and they never would change escalator directions.

    • I don’t see this practice as “widespread”. Can you imagine the chaos at a station such as Shinjuku if they reversed their direction?!

      What will their candace be for reversing them if this model does indeed need to be reversed. They’ve only been in service for a few months. Should we expect to see reversals happen quarterly?

    • Would not be surprised if this needs to be done more frequently when first put into service, not unlike driving a new car gently for the first 1000 miles break-in.

    • Jim, you say it’s true so it must be true, ha. Calling BS on you. I’ve lived in cities that make Seattle look like a Mississippi backhole and they never reverse their subway escalators. I think you are full of crap. Have some swampland in Florida for me to purchase do you?

    • Uh…yeah, Karl. I made it all up, then I called the light rail people and told them, and they believed me, and they reversed the escalator directions because I told them to. Because Sound Transit always does everything *I* tell them to. Yup, this was all MY idea. Whatever you say, Karl.

  4. They were reversed this morning and then back to normal this afternoon. Seems weird that they would switch them in the middle of the day. It’s easy to tell which one to get on, so it’s not a big deal, but you’d think they would try and minimize the confusion with signage or at least not switch them around mid-day.

  5. I am still baffled by this. I’ve never experienced it in all of my escalator riding in my life. Why is this needed two months into a new station? If they cut “burn in” corners to get the station open, I guess I could understand that. But if you need to reverse direction, do that in the hours that you don’t have trains running.

    If it’s a “mindfulness” campaign, I am still baffled. How is mobility helped by only having down escalators? Imagine the impact on blind riders when the escalator suddenly shoots them back up.


      “….Having the ability to reverse the unit is the key to a healthy escalator. We have to be able to change directions so we have equivalent gear wear for up and down directions. Think of it as flipping your mattress or rotating your tires. If an escalator is run only in one direction for a long time, you can never reverse its direction due to unbalanced gear wear.”

      Doing it during off-hours when no trains are running would mean it would not be carrying any weight (passengers).

  6. Was I really just called stupid?

    Maybe you’ve never taken the Denny exit, but there is only one escalator there. If you reverse it, there is only a down escalator. Who needs it?

    I’ve commuted in escalator-driven subways for years and never seen this. If it’s a thing, it’s a new thing.