Maybe Sound Transit’s ‘Vertical Conveyances Report’ will finally address the Hedberg principle — UPDATE

If you’re tired of encountering broken down — and blocked off — escalators at Capitol Hill Station and across the rest of Sound Transit’s light rail facilities, here’s hoping for some good ideas in the University of Washington Vertical Conveyances Report.

The wonky sounding update is scheduled to be delivered Thursday at the Sound Transit board’s afternoon session of the Operations and Administration Committee. The report follows a fiasco level incident in March in which every escalator at UW Station was out of commission and hundreds queued up for long waits for the only access to the platform — the elevator.


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CHS has reported on the frequently out of service escalators at Capitol Hill Station and Sound Transit’s reluctance to utilize the Hedberg principle — An escalator can never break: it can only become stairs. Sound Transit has maintained over the years that the escalator steps don’t conform to international building codes and therefore can’t be opened to walk up and down in the event of a mechanical issue.

In the event of an emergency, there are fire escapes and stairs but it hasn’t come to utilizing those as an outlet — yet.

Seattle is not alone in its poorly performing transit escalators and elevators. In the Bay Area, riders on the BART system recently suffered 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. We’ve also documented why Capitol Hill Station’s escalators are sometimes reversed.

There’s no early word about what will be in the “vertical conveyances” report but here are a few ideas for alternatives to broken escalators. For more inspiration, consider the fate of another perpetually broken Capitol Hill escalator. Today, it’s stairs.

Though it goes against industry recommendations, Sound Transit is working on a plan to officially allow a broken escalator to be used — under certain circumstance

UPDATE 2:00 PM: Sound Transit’s operations officials said Thursday that, yes, broken escalators can be used as stairs — under certain circumstances and, apparently, only at UW Station.

As part of a briefing on the March outage at UW Station, staff described what they said was a unique set of circumstances involving mechanical and communications breakdowns that created the St. Patrick’s Day service problems at the station outside Husky Stadium

Staff is slated to return to the board committee in two weeks with a proposal for a new set of protocols that can be put in place in any future outage at UW that cuts off all escalator access to the train platform, the only way to access the platform besides taking the elevator. Those protocols will likely include a plan to officially allow the use of UW Station’s escalators as stairs but only after the escalator has been locked in place by a technician.

Longer term solutions could include exploring whether local jurisdictions would allow the use of UW’s fire escape stairs as a permanently various access route and studying the possibility of adding stairs at the station. There is also interest in looking at the cost of replacing UW Station’s escalators with a heavier grade system. The UW escalators currently cost Sound Transit about twice as much in repairs and maintenance than other escalators in its system, CEO Peter Rogoff said Thursday. Capitol Hill’s escalators were built to the same specifications but by a different manufacturer and Sound Transit says that they have been provided more reliable service.

Though it like UW Station features a train platform that has no standard access staircase, Capitol Hill Station was a footnote in the report delivered Thursday, though it’s possible policies put in place at UW could be extended to the Broadway facility. Future stations are being built with stairs next to escalators except for the under construction U District Station. But even there, officials said Thursday they are looking at the cost of adding new stairs to the plan.

The full report is below.

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3 thoughts on “Maybe Sound Transit’s ‘Vertical Conveyances Report’ will finally address the Hedberg principle — UPDATE

  1. The contractors installing the escalators should be accountable for performance for a certain time period after installation. These things were breaking down mere weeks after the stations opened to the public. That’s unacceptable.

    • and when they do, how about making sure that any *working* escalator is going UP? so infuriating to see an up escalator broken, while the down is chugging right along.

      if the up is broken, reverse the other one.

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