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Metro Escalators Suffer From Lack Of Weatherproofing

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There are two escalators leading out of the platform at Union Station, one of Metro’s busiest stations.
David Schultz
There are two escalators leading out of the platform at Union Station, one of Metro’s busiest stations.

There are two escalators leading out of the platform at Union Station, one of Metro's busiest stations. One of them is under construction and the other is shut down, which means it's essentially just a set of stairs -- a really long set of stairs.

"This has been a small nightmare for the last four months," says Ashley Kristof, a commuter who uses this station every day.

Kristof points to a plywood barrier surrounding the escalator under construction, with posters on it detailing why it's out of commission

"I think its a mix of Metro trying to look like they're doing something, so people aren't upset, and it looks like we're making repairs!" she says. "But I think it actually just makes people more angry, than anything."

Metro has almost 600 escalators, and according to its own numbers, only 60 percent are functioning at any given time. It's even worse when the weather is bad.

"If it rains, outside units, I'm sorry to say, most of them will cut off," says Tim Hoepfl, a Metro escalator technician speaking at a labor town hall meeting. "The handrails slip, the brakes are wet, it will cut off."

Metro's escalators are long. The one at Wheaton station is 230 feet – the longest escalator in the western hemisphere. When those escalators shut down, only the most athletic of riders can climb up them.

"And I know that a lot of this is design," says Hoepf. "And I know that a lot of people have complained, and now Metro is listening."

Metro has plans to spend more than $130 million over the next six years to rehabilitate many of its escalators. In the meantime, Washingtonians are left praying it doesn't rain.

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