One rider reported that at least 200 people were waiting to leave the 90-foot-deep boarding station in what is at least the fourth major outage this year at UW Station.

Share story

Commuters departing their light-rail trains at University of Washington Station on Monday morning found crowds and delays, when at least one upward escalator and one elevator failed near the boarding platform 90 feet underground.

The mess lasted about three hours, according to tweets, pictures and emails from customers. However, the delays of several minutes were far less severe than an incident March 16, when people waited on the street plaza 50 minutes to ride an elevator down, when both downward escalators to the trackway level stalled. That part of the station lacks a public staircase.

The second upward escalator briefly failed Monday morning at track level, just before 10 a.m., but Sound Transit says it was restarted several minutes later — so the agency didn’t open up the emergency stairs for passenger use, as its new protocols allow.

Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development Co., NHL Seattle, PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company and Seattle Children’s hospital. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.

Learn more about Traffic Lab » | Follow us on Twitter »

“I’m thankful summer session is out and fall session at the UW hasn’t started,” said an email from rider Dave Gerton, who sent a photo of people congregating around one working elevator. “There were probably 200 people waiting. Had this been a normal week the platform would have been full.”

Agency spokeswoman Kimberly Reason said one escalator was undergoing a planned repair. In addition, one elevator was reported out of service at 9:20 a.m., she said. Full service was restored by Monday afternoon, KUOW radio reported.

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff this spring announced that in the event of multiple escalator failures, the emergency stairs at the north end of the train station would be opened for passenger use — and in fact that happened April 27, which was at least the third major outage this year at UW Station.

Two riders tell The Seattle Times the security staff on Monday stopped people who tried on their own to enter that back staircases. Gerton said he spoke to a front-line worker: “He said they would not change the directions of the downward escalators nor open the stairs. This was because dispatch had not allowed him to do so.”

One escalator was undergoing active repair, a rider picture shows.

Escalator failures are a recurring problem at Sound Transit, King County Metro and other transit agencies around the U.S. such as Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) in Oakland, Calif.

Sound Transit has held a couple board-member briefings this year, and has promised further investigation and possible technical solutions. At one point, Rogoff mentioned that years ago, standard escalators were ordered for UW Station and Capitol Hill Station, instead of tougher transit-grade escalators. Doing so saved only $1.5 million, according to a KUOW news report. Sound Transit collects around $1.7 billion a year in regional taxes.

In the future, light-rail stations are designed to provide at least one fixed public staircase to the lower level — except for the U District Station to open in 2021. It will be escalator and elevator dependent for everyday, nonemergency trips.