When the year began, a full 28 of the 58 escalators and elevators were inoperable at the stations when King County Metro handed over maintenance duties to Sound Transit. Nearly all are more than 30 years old. A tall upward escalator at University Street Station, blocked by yellow barricades because of dangerous vibrations, hadn’t worked since May 2019.
Sound Transit has hired a new contractor and budgeted $8.7 million to nurse the old equipment along through 2023.
The 36 downtown-tunnel escalators functioned an average 34% of the time in January, improving to 61% in June. The goal is to someday reach the transit-industry standard of 95% performance.
The first new escalators will arrive next year. The agency will replace every escalator over five to seven years, the biggest cost in its $96 million tunnel-renovation budget. They’ll be stronger “transit grade” units, to better withstand moisture and roughhousing.
“We have a plan moving forward, but we want our passengers to know that it’s not going to be fixed tomorrow,” John Carini, Sound Transit deputy director for vertical conveyances, told the agency’s board. “A lot of work needs to be done. It’s a big undertaking.”
Failing escalators plague North American transit stations built in the late 20th century, especially the deep Washington, D.C., Metro subways.
Breakdowns in Seattle were easy to ignore in 2020, when ridership plunged 80%.
But full access to the train platforms will become essential by Oct. 2, when new Northgate, Roosevelt and University District stations attract curious opening-day riders, followed by Husky football and Kraken hockey fans. UW’s fall semester and South Lake Union tech firms also will bring commuters back.
When full demand returns, which could take years, the three new stations are projected to boost pre-COVID ridership of 80,000 daily trips to 125,000.
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