No long-term fix coming soon for ailing Huntington Metro escalator

Huntington escalator line

A line of riders wait to exit the platform at the Huntington Metro station earlier this month.

WMATA says there are no plans in the near future to refurbish or replace a critical escalator at the Huntington Metro station that has been out of commission for a number of days this summer.

The escalator — which links the mezzanine and platform on the North Kings Highway side of the station — is on Metro’s list of escalators to be overhauled or replaced. But commuters hoping for a permanent fix will have to continue waiting.

“We have identified the escalator for rehabilitation or replacement,” WMATA spokesman Richard Jordan said. “There is no timeframe on the project at this time.”

The escalator is particularly important because of the Huntington station’s unique configuration. It is one of three escalators on the North Kings Highway side of the platform, but is the only full-width model. There are half-width escalators on each side of it — one goes up, one goes down. If everything is working properly, the full-width escalator changes direction to accommodate rush-hour crowds and allows for riders to walk on one side and stand on the other, while the half-width escalators are typically used by walkers.

But when the middle escalator is stopped, riders at rush hour face a considerably longer amount of time exiting or entering the platform.  If the middle escalator is available for use as a staircase, it’s not a huge problem in the mornings, but in the afternoons — especially in the summer heat — it’s too high a climb for many riders, who must then wait in line to use the half-width escalator. 

And if the middle escalator is completely out of action — meaning it cannot even be used as a staircase, as seen in the image above — all riders are forced to use the half-width escalator, stretching the line even further. In the morning, the delays caused by funneling all riders down a single half-width escalator mean the difference between getting to work late or on-time.  

“I realize that there are many worse problems in the world than unreliable escalators, but the chronic breakdowns at the south end of Huntington are a particular annoyance for commuters because when the “wide” escalator is out of service people are stuck and may miss trains on the single-file escalator,” said Frank Vlossak, a regular rider at Huntington. 

This summer the middle escalator has been plagued by a number of stoppages, mostly for short periods of time but nevertheless aggravating for commuters. The causes have been varied, according to Jordan.

“Three separate times maintenance was performed due to items caught in the escalator that triggered the unit’s safety device,” Jordan said. “The escalator was also out of service for two days for maintenance to adjust the chains in the unit.”

Riders can also expect the escalator to be out of action over the Labor Day weekend as maintenance is performed, Jordan said. 

Last week the escalator issue hit a boiling point with some riders when both of the half-width escalators were also inoperable during rush hour one afternoon, forcing all riders to either walk up the idle escalators, wait for the elevator or enter/exit the station on the Huntington side. 

The intermittent escalator outages, which have happened for years, have tested the patience of many Huntington riders. 

“The most frustrating thing is the unpredictability,” said Mark Colombo, who’s been using the Huntington Metro for four years. “There’s nothing quite so disappointing as getting off the train to find that there’s already a line of people waiting to go up the single working one-lane escalator –or, worse, that there’s no working up escalator, just a down escalator.”

While a large-scale overhaul or replacement would likely mean the troubled escalator would be completely unusable for many months, Colombo said that would be preferable to the current unpredictability. In the meantime, he says that clearer communication about escalator outages from Metro would make it easy for riders to plan their commutes. 

“Their escalator status page, which I’m not even sure where to find except for the direct link I have, usually says something unhelpful like ‘service call’ which tells you nothing about what’s going on with it,” Colombo said. “More information is almost always better; if something’s going on, they should explain what it is.”