Time's up for old Metro escalators

Mishap at Dum Dum station accelerates plan to replace creaking equipment over next 18 months

By DEBRAJ MITRA in Calcutta
  • Published 11.06.18
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The escalator at Dum Dum station that had reversed

Calcutta: One in every three escalators in use at Metro stations is a dinosaur that can no longer defy age, forcing the city's transport lifeline to draw up a plan to replace some of them over the next one-and-a-half years.

Metro Railway has invited bids for four new escalators at Dum Dum station, including the one that had abruptly reversed direction on May 8, throwing off several commuters and leaving one of them with injuries to both knees.

Eleven more escalators are to be replaced at Rabindra Sadan, Rabindra Sarobar, Belgachia, Chandni Chowk, Esplanade and Netaji Bhavan stations.

"Around 20 escalators will be replaced over the next 18 months," a senior official of Metro Railway said.

The 24 stations on the north-south route have 78 escalators, of which at least 25 have exceeded their lifespan of two decades. The list of manufacturers includes Thyssenkrupp, Otis Elevator, Johnson Lifts, Kone Elevator and the Schindler Group.

Thyssenkrupp has the maintenance contract for more than 50 of these elevators while Johnson and Schindler are responsible for keeping the rest in shape.

Almost half the 30 Otis escalators are more than two decades old. "Escalators in use in busy areas like stations have a maximum lifespan of 20 years. They can go out of use even earlier, if not maintained properly," said an official at Otis, one of the world's top manufacturers of elevators, escalators and walkways.

The older escalators require an overhaul every six months while the rest have a one-year window. But snags in the older escalators are common and they are often shut for repairs for weeks. The escalator that reversed direction at Dum Dum had been closed for repairs for months last year before being certified fit for use from December.

The accident was almost a rerun of June 6, 2017, when an escalator moving up at Kavi Subhash (New Garia) station reversed direction, injuring at least at least five persons.

The Otis official declined to comment on the upkeep of Metro escalators in Calcutta. But she did say that giving the maintenance contract to the original equipment manufacturer has its advantages.

"The hardware advantage is the most obvious one. There are registered vendors who deal in spares. The manufacturer has direct access to these vendors, which a third party does not," the official said.

A senior representative of Metro Railway said maintenance would not be an issue if handled by "a competent company", even if it isn't the original manufacturer. "Most of the spares are procured from abroad, where vendors and sub-vendors are bound to provide material to companies that compete with the original manufacturer. In any case, maintenance contracts are awarded via a tender to the top bidder."