How long should it take to completely overhaul a subway escalator? The TTC decided ten years ago that rebuilding old escalators would take less time and money than buying new ones. Behind those plywood walls, crews strip the devices down to their frames, then replace a substantial percentage of the machinery and electronics.
The oldest units in the system have now been done, and work is underway in north Yonge subway stations. The relatively new escalators along the Sheppard line were installed by outside contractors, and now need “mini-overhauls” because they break down far too often.
It took an average of 18 weeks to rebuild the machines on the Bloor-Danforth line — that’s more than four months each. Yonge escalators came from a different manufacturer and can take up to 22 weeks to completely overhaul — in theory. The catch is that whenever mechanics start work on a model they haven’t rebuilt before, the first ones take much longer than the rest.
An example is Lawrence station, where an observant rider notes one escalator was “supposed to be closed for five months” but ended up taking nine. He wrote me that during “all that time, there was little or NO activity going on there — I know, I walked by it every day.”
Transit users are understandably dismayed at slow progress on repair projects. I’ve questioned several TTC officials about escalators, and was shown three job sites last week.
To prevent injuries in these tight spaces, mechanics must work carefully, which adds time. Then there’s the issue of getting new parts for a decades-old design —more delays, it seems.
At Lawrence station, repair workers overhauling the unit found that part of the building's wall had weakened. Suddenly a one-team job got more complicated. TTC engineers and construction staff had to be brought in from other work projects — resulting in delays all around, including nine months for this one escalator.
Each machine is unique, and must be precisely aligned to the surrounding structure. To run 20 hours a day for 25 years, escalators must be installed perfectly, as the Sheppard experience proves. Because there are thousands of parts to keep track of, it seems only one crew is assigned to each machine.
I have been assured by officials that repair times are well-scrutinized, as are productivity and scheduling practices. Can they be better? If the commission wants to repair the impression that work takes longer than it should, the transit board itself needs to assure riders.
There has been gradual progress in making sure that signs are posted when escalators have to be shut for regular maintenance or annual cleaning.
More explanation may be needed — and don’t get me started on new elevator construction. We customers are not technical experts — but please make it clearer why things take as long as they do.
• Planned escalator closures are on the TTC’s info line, 416-393-4636. Press 5.