Unless you’re willing to risk being stranded with 14 other passengers several stories underground in a cattle car elevator on a hot summer day, or plunging at extreme speeds down an escalator with a broken chain, you might want to steer clear of NYC’s subway system lifts. The New York Times has published the results of an extensive investigation that includes tales of daily breakdowns, comically undertrained mechanics, and about $1 billion spent over the past decade.
Probably the most disturbing finding is that the subway’s mechanics are released into the system with 4 weeks of training, compared to 4 years for elevator repairmen in the private sector. By contrast, mechanics hired by Washington, D.C. metro system now receive 4 years of training, and those hired by the San Francisco metro system receive 2 years of training.
The worst offender is the 181st St station for the 1, 9 trains. As passengers familiar with the station know, you have to take giant elevators several stories underground to reach the subway lines, and they suffered over 100 breakdowns last year. The article highlights one breakdown where 15 people, including two women who began to suffer from asthma attacks, were trapped for 40 minutes last summer. The same elevator “had broken down five times in the eight days leading up to the event. Each time, mechanics came, made minor adjustments and put the machine back in service — only to have it break down again.” After the 15 people were let out, the elevator was put back in service, only to break down again later that afternoon.
But it sounds like it’s the plunging escalators you really have to watch out for—or at least have strong ankles and the ability to leap and roll when you reach the bottom:
On June 6th, during the evening rush, the chain snapped with a bang and the escalator stopped moving. People began walking down the escalator. The last person on was Magaly Diaz, a pregnant woman on her way home from work.
Suddenly, the escalator sprang back to life. Freed from the hold of the drive chain, the steps began freewheeling downhill, quickly picking up speed. It all went so fast that Ms. Diaz cannot even remember if she screamed.
“It felt like a roller coaster,” said Ms. Diaz, 40. “You know how it feels when you’re at the top of a roller coaster going down? That’s the kind of momentum it had.”
Most people jumped or stumbled off at the bottom. But a friend standing in front of Ms. Diaz fell at the bottom and Ms. Diaz landed on top of her. Both women were taken to the hospital. Ms. Diaz had two badly twisted ankles, though she was grateful that a sonogram showed no injury to her fetus.
Coming soon: the MTA will use this as a reason to call for fare increases.