Starting up an escalator

This will probably be a pretty short GQ thread, but I’m just curious. I ride the subways daily as part of my commute, and this usually involves multiple trips up and down escalators. It is not uncommon for me to come across an escalator that isn’t moving, and I’ve also had the unfortunate experience of being on an escalator when it stopped. Most of the time, I assume something has broken, but I also have twice witnessed kids simply push the Emergency Stop button out of mischief.

Now, when someone stops the escalator, but there’s obviously not a mechanical problem with it, what happens to get it started again? I’ve never seen the magical “Go” button anywhere, so I assume that a technician is required – for safety reasons – to check the escalator over and make sure it’s OK to start up again. And then…what? Is there a place to stick a key, or what?


I saw a maintenance crew just this Monday working on an escalator. There was a flap on the bottom of the bannister part that they unlocked, and it had the usual industrial green and red buttons, along with some other stuff.

It was quite cool, because they took a load of the steps up so I got to see the innards.

I like what comedian Mitch Hedburg had to say about escalators. That they can never break. They can only become stairs. Sorry for the convenience.


I love that guy. I think the whole bit goes something like this:

“My favorite invention is the escalator, because the escalator can never break, it can only become stairs. Instead of putting a sign up that says ‘escalator temporarily broken,’ it should say, ‘escalator temporarily stairs. You can still get up there. Sorry for the convenience.’”

Then there was the Ethnic who got stuck on a broken escalator for two hours before it was fixed.

Most escalators have a key that operates the escalator, turning it on and off, etc. If the escalator gets turned off accidentally (emergency switch, e.g.), someone with a key can restart it. I used to have to start the escalator 15 min. before the opening of the store when I worked as manager for Dillard’s.

It’s not uncommon that the keyswitch is plainly visible, at least for smaller installations. Look for example at the bottom end of the escalator at the lower parts of the handrail frame. If I remember correctly, a typical small-scale version has a single keyswitch with marking arrows for ‘Up’ and ‘Down’ at either side of the central key position and an unprotected stop button. I used to notice them as a child (perhaps due to suitable eye-height above ground) and deeply wish I had the key and wasn’t supervised.

I once worked at a department store and I usually came to work at the same time as the guy responsible for starting them in the morning. He started an escalator at the basement (with a keyswitch as described) and rode it to the next floor and so on to the top where he began starting the down escalators riding them down. These escalators had controls in both ends, saving him a bit of walking. If I was early and lazy I waited for my escalator-commanding collegue to arrive. The interesting bit of this story was that he reversed the direction of the escalators every week, perhaps for uniform wear reasons.

This raises a question: If there was no need to have reversible escalators for availability, wear and other reasons, would there be any difference between the perfect, optimized Up escalator and its down counterpart?

Late in the evening, some escalators on the Munich subway system would go into a sort of standby mode. They’d be stopped, but stepping on a pressure plate at either end would start them moving in the appropriate direction. And there were lights you could see from a distance to know which escalator to head for. I always figured it was an energy-saving measure.

Well, there’s a Target store near me that’s on two levels. Between the human escalators there are shopping-cart escalators. (A google image search finds this.) The shopping-cart wheels are spaced differently (front wheels close together, rear wheels farther apart) so they’ll ride on different tracks on the escalator and the cart will stay level as it travels up or down. So the cart escalators are customized for the direction of travel.

(Strictly speaking, the carts only have a face a certain way. You could reverse the motor on the down escalator and put the carts in at the bottom handle-first, and it would probably work in theory. There are little saloon-type doors that might only open one way, and probably other safety catches that might need to be overridden.)

I’ve never seen that before. Most department stores I’ve been to (when I’ve paid attention to it, anyway) have always made the escalator closest to the door the up one, and the down ones are at the back. This makes it very easy to draw people to the higher floors very quickly, and they then have to walk past all the merchandise on every floor if they want to go down again. It’s a bit like supermarkets putting bread, milk and other basics right at the back.

That is too cool. My geeky husband and I would go to that store just to watch that. :slight_smile:

Well, duh! When all the steps get to the top, he has to turn it around to bring them back down again.

A small number of escalators in the NYC subway also exhibit this behavior.

believe it or not, someone actually got whooshed with that joke not too long ago, on this site. :wink:

Obligatory YouTube video here.

Holy crap, Sapo is back!

Buddy, if you see this please follow the link to this recent thread and take a look at post #6.

If it’s the subway escalator at 52nd and Third in Manhattan, it seems to take about two years after it shuts down to restart.