Trouble underground: when NFTA metro escalators quit

Escalator #1 is back up and running again at the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s University Station.

This is not the first time that the escalator has had problems. In fact, it’s been an ongoing problem for years.

The most recent stoppage happened in the fall.

It went down in October — and for weeks, while it was being fixed, frustrations were boiling over.

“They just fixed it. It’s supposed to be brand new. What’s wrong with it now,”  commuter Martha Drake says.

“It was determined that there was a slippage of 3/16″ inch off the drive sprocket that caused some collateral damage to the escalator,” according to NFTA Spokesman Douglas Hartmayer.

Sonia Suarez, a frequent commuter, is puzzled by the escalator stoppages.

“I don’t understand why it’s never running.”

This same escalator had a complete rebuild last year at a cost of $371,000 to taxpayers.

“There’s no reason for it. They should be fixing that thing,” commuter Bob Reed tells News 4 Investigates.

Here’s a look at the ups and downs of the escalator:

In 2012 it was up and running for 5 months and down and out of service for 7 months. In 2013 it was up for 8 months and down 4 months. That means in the last two years the escalator was down nearly an entire year.

Shakena Garrett also commutes through University Station.

“I’ve seen people get into arguments over trying to get up the escalator or get on the elevator,” she says

What really has people fuming?

“It’s constantly broken,” a frustrated Sonia Suarez says.

And after a complete rebuild it lasted only 8 months.

“It just happened. It wasn’t because of necessarily poor workmanship or necessarily poor maintenance. It happened,” Douglas Hartmayer explained.

But according to documents obtained by News 4 Investigates through New York State’s Freedom of Information Law — questions about maintenance were raised by a consultant hired by the NFTA to oversee the project.

A November 2013 report from Architectural Resources of Buffalo states that “damage would have been avoided or minimal had the issues been identified early and corrected, as part of the regular maintenance.”

“…DCB Elevator has not been performing the required preventative maintenance as part of their regular prescribed inspections…” the report states.

News 4 Investigates asked the NFTA whether the consultant’s report means anything.

“We certainly evaluated that report. But if you want to go back and read it verbatim which you just did. It suggests. It wasn’t necessarily a confirmation to me. A suggestion is a suggestion not necessarily definitive answer or a definitive response to the root cause,” Hartmayer responded.

News 4 met with representatives of Architectural Resources a few weeks ago and asked about what the company’s representatives wrote in the November report to the NFTA.

They tell us the report was written based on information available at the time.  But now they say it’s “inconclusive” as to whether the drive sprocket shifting had anything to do with maintenance.

But even the escalator equipment manufacturer, the November report noted, found “no evidence to suggest substandard or defective equipment was responsible.”

So, as of right now, no one can say for sure what caused an expensive escalator rebuild to fail after only 8 months.

What caused the drive sprocket to shift?

“It could have been an improper part. It could have been maintenance, which again is why the contractor read the report and fixed the escalator,” Douglas Hartmayer says.

DCB Elevator of Lewiston performed the initial escalator rebuild last year — and the most recent repairs. The company has not responded to phone calls and emails asking for a comment.

And while the NFTA forked over hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money the last time the escalator went down — Hartmayer says that’s not the case this time.

“The contractor is picking up 100 percent of the cost. Not one penny will come from the NFTA.”

And while that’s good for taxpayers — commuter Martha Drake is interested in reliable service — day in and day out.

“I feel that it’s s shame because it’s always broken. Every time you look they’re going up on the fare and this thing is never working,” she added.

The NFTA’s plan going forward involves “modernizing” all 24 escalators at Metro Rail Stations. It’s an aging system that gets a lot of use.

Funding would likely come from federal and state grants, and a portion from the NFTA. Plus, the authority will be looking to solicit bids for the work which will include maintenance and service.

What about the price tag going forward?

“The financial hit will be substantial,” Hartmayer tells News 4 Investigates.

In the meantime, the escalators at University Station are running.

And commuters are hoping it stays that way.

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