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As Hudson Yards Rises, Broken Subway Escalators Make for Steep Climbs

An out-of-service escalator at the Hudson Yards station on March 13, 2019.
An out-of-service escalator at the Hudson Yards station on March 13, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Hudson Yards, officially opening Friday, is brand new — but the sprawling city within-a-city is already up against an old problem.

The 34 Street–Hudson Yards subway station, which connects 7 train riders to the new $25 billion retail and residential complex, has three of the 10 most failure-prone subway escalators in Manhattan, according to the MTA’s most recent quarterly report on elevator and escalator performance.

“I’m from Nepal, so I’m used to climbing mountains,” Neelima Basnet, 35, said Wednesday after climbing 40 steps because of an out-of-service escalator at the station, which opened in September 2015 and is home to 16 escalators – including the longest one in the subway system.

“Trudging up those 125-foot-long escalators when they’re not working isn’t easy for the elderly,” said Colin Wright of TransitCenter, which has pushed for increased subway accessibility for riders with disabilities. “It’s a slog for anyone.”

Escalators at the Hudson Yards subway station have been beset with problems since the station opened in 2015.
Escalators at the Hudson Yards subway station have been beset with problems since the station opened in 2015. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

MTA data shows that from October to December 2018, “Escalator 632” – the least reliable of those in Manhattan stations – had 25 outages, knocking it out of service more than 20 percent of the time.

That included a two-week stretch from Oct. 5 to Oct. 19, when the mechanics malfunctioned on this shorter escalator, which connects to street level at the station’s newest entrance, which opened last September.

“Twenty-five outages in three months is really terrible,” Wright said.

Systemwide, subway escalator availability slipped to 92.2 percent of the time over the last three months of 2018, according to the MTA, which has a goal of 95.2 percent availability.

But the two other peskiest escalators at the 34 Street-Hudson Yards station didn’t come close to that performance.

“Escalator 635” had a 24-hour availability rate of 82.5 percent, with 50 outages, while “Escalator 626” was in service 82.94 percent of the time, with 53 outages.

“Whoever did this job didn’t do it well enough,” said Elizabeth Garedew, 54, of the Bronx, who bypassed an escalator closed for maintenance. “This station is only three years old, so something wasn’t done right.”

“The city thinks Hudson Yards is ready,” Wright said. “But the Hudson Yards station isn’t ready.”

The new mega-development looms over Hudson Yards.
The new mega-development looms over Hudson Yards. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The station’s original opening was delayed, in part, because of problems with equipment that helps commuters and shoppers move in and out of one of the MTA’s deepest stations. In addition to its 16 escalators, the station has four elevators.

A $2.4 Billion Subway Station

City taxpayers essentially floated the $2.4 billion cost of the station, via bonds that officials are betting will be paid off by future tax revenues generated by the Hudson Yards project.

Just over 3 million riders used the 34th Street – Hudson Yards stop in 2017, the last year for which figures are available.

That number is set to soar with the opening of the mega-development, which includes upscale shops and office and retail towers built atop the West Side Rail Yard.

An MTA spokesman pointed out that availability rates for the station’s escalators have been ranging between 90 and 94 percent in 2019.

“We’re continuing to work with the manufacturers and our maintainers to make sure that repairs have a lasting impact for maximum uptime,” said the spokesman, Shams Tarek.

Byron Macias, 50, who uses the Hudson Yards station daily, said new visitors shouldn’t be surprised to see escalators blocked off for repairs.

“It shouldn’t be that way,” said the Queens resident. “When you just want to get somewhere as quickly as possible, finding one that doesn’t work isn’t helpful.”

This story was originally published in Intelligencer at nymag.com.