Sound Transit trying to sort out how best to keep Capitol Hill Station escalators moving

Ongoing maintenance issues have Sound Transit considering doing away with escalators altogether — in future stations. At Capitol Hill Station, however, the one-year warranty has expired and the frequently out of service moving stairways will continue to be an ongoing nuisance on the 65-foot journey to and from the light rail platform.

The Seattle Times reported this week that Sound Transit is rethinking its lack of stairs and mounting an engineering study to “diagnose recent breakdowns, and to collect previous data to find trends” as outages mount across the system and at UW Station and Capitol Hill Station.

CHS reported on escalator service disruptions this December that lasted weeks over the holiday period. Sound Transit blamed the long delay on the state, telling CHS that signoff from Washington Labor & Industries was required to “approve the repairs.” The yellow barriers closing off access to the busted machinery have become a ubiquitous part of the facility as Sound Transit pieces together routes into and out of the station with the multiple escalator chutes that run through the $110 million station. There are also elevators but no stairs — the elevator steps are too tall to meet international building codes, Sound Transit says.

Seattle is not alone in its poorly performing transit escalators and elevators. In the Bay Area, riders on the BART system are going through a spike in breakdowns with some passengers reportedly breaking the rules and climbing the shut-down, blocked-off escalators anyhow. Reasons for the mechanical shutdowns vary — at Capitol Hill Station, Sound Transit says braking components have reportedly been part of the problem.

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18 thoughts on “Sound Transit trying to sort out how best to keep Capitol Hill Station escalators moving

  1. Interesting this is getting more coverage because of the Capital Hill station. This is an ongoing problem for all of the ST stations.

    The escalators were out for about 6 weeks once in the International District Station. And how long have the elevators been out at Sea Tac? Where the only solution is to get off at an earlier station and transfer over to a rapid ride – not close for anyone with mobility issues.

    A tech once told me that because of the air here in Seattle (salt & moisture) we’re always going to have this problem in the tunnels.

    • Yeah, when the escalators are out at the downtown stations, I tend to forget pretty quickly because it’s just an annoyance to use the stairs. But since there ARE no stairs at the Capitol Hill station, having to use an elevator or a different exit altogether makes it more disruptive and more memorable.

    • Stairs, yes, but oh god no don’t take the advice of Harvard Market for security. We don’t need shootings every summer weekend in the stations.

  2. Devices like escalators are bound to have some downtime, but so much outage so soon after the system opened? It sounds like Sound Transit hasn’t planned for upkeep or bought inferior items. Lots of businesses and organizations keep escalators working — airports, department stores, well-run subway systems all over the world. As to the complaint that L&I is taking too long to permit repairs — isn’t managing relations with L&I part of competently running a system like Sound Transit? When escalators break in the airport and other public buildings, they often seem to get fixed without huge delays.

    Removing escalators from the Sound Transit stations would make the system much less convenient, but might be the only choice if Sound Transit management is too incompetent to keep them working. (I wonder what’s next — trains?)

    BTW, what does BART having 14 escalators out of service have to do with this? BART is a much larger system than Sound Transit, so the number isn’t comparable. Is the idea to suggest that escalators are hard to maintain because there are some out of service at BART? Very strange, when there are so many working escalators in so many places…

    • I think people including the operators themselves think this vital link of infrastructure is maintenance free. They actually require more upkeep them people appreciate. They don’t work very well on the cheap. They are mechanical and break, but, I don’t see these issues in Tokyo where I go a few times a month. I see much more regular maintenance there. They went after and prosecuted ThyssenKrupp for lax maintenance on an elevator there.

  3. Sounds like we were the recipients of the “lowest bid” for escalators. Systems all over the world get them to work but apparently not here.

  4. Stairs would have been cheaper….Or more stairs like they stated – which would still allow everyone to complain when the escalators are broken: Win-Win!

  5. Theoretical liability concerns aside, what is the worst thing that would actually happen to transit riders if they were to walk up or down the stalled escalators? Security yelling at them? Fines?

    • The worst thing that could happen would be for the brakes holding it stationary to fail, resulting in a fast, terrifying and quite possibly injurious ride to the bottom. Contrary to the old joke, a broken escalator is not a staircase.

  6. Be careful what you wish for. If the escalators become stairs, does everyone realize how far they will have to walk up and down stairs? It’s more than 5 stories in height.

  7. Sounds like the “one year warranty”, needs to be looked into, and whoever built this escalator better get busy on fixing a flawed product. How unreal that equipment which is built for this volume of use, is broken. Where are the lawyers?). How is this even an issue?

  8. Escalators have been around for ages. In fact there are different classifications of escalators used in different applications as the comments show; malls, airports, stadiums, cruise ships, transit stations. Compared to all the other larger Transit Authorities around the World, Sound Transit is a very young transit company but fast growing transit authority. Hopefully they understand the importance of Vertical Transportation. Next to trains, plains, and automobiles, they move millions of people around the world a day. I truly believe the escalators at these stations are standard mall commercial escalators and not high traffic units found in stations like BART, HART, New York Metro, Miami, and Chicago. High Traffic units can withstand the high wear and tear of station environments. They don’t get shut down as frequently as mall escalators and they’re exposed to moisture and the ‘salt’ in the air. I wonder what happens if you put a mall type escalator in a station that had hundreds or thousands more riders going through it and throw it outside exposed to some of the elements? Maybe that’s what we got with the Capitol Hill Station, which might be cheaper. Gotta’ love those lowest bidders. Maybe the types of escalators we see in the New York tunnel stations are what we need because they’ve been running just fine for years. Maybe the money they spend on pretty art and aesthetic lights should be placed in better quality escalators? Typically, these stations are tested and operational long before the stations are open to the public to ensure compliance the demands of the public and quality assurance, so this should’ve been foreseen. Its sad to have a new escalator go down for weeks. I heard the state is short several inspectors and are short specialists to approve the permitting due to being overloaded with several projects, and they are not allowed to work overtime. Why can’t these escalators fall under the City of Seattle like every other escalator in Seattle? Just a thought.

  9. Wow, so much perspective on escalators. Perhaps CHS can look into whether we were indeed duped into purchasing least-cost mall-grade escalators rather than splurging on the heartier transit-grade edition. Best to know before we spend another billionish dollars on vertical conveyance at other stations.

    I am curious, though, about whether going through Seattle for escalator inspections would be quicker or even possible. Local bureaucracy > state bureaucracy.

  10. No escalators and stairs instead? Fine. Just watch older people like me abandon light rail and go back to the buses.