Escalator malfunction leads to injuries and arrests

Originally published at:


piles of screaming humans

I scream whenever I forget how to walk too.


Well, didn’t that just suck the life out of my favorite Mitch Hedberg joke…


This reminds me of an incident several years ago in a NYC subway station on Lexington Ave., midtown somewhere, big station. It was midday, there were lots of people but it wasn’t completely jammed. I was on the mezzanine floor below street level, where the escalators take you down to the tracks.

Suddenly, a ripple ran through the mezzanine crowd and people bolted. The reaction clearly emanated from a point at the top of one of the escalators and propagated fast, in a circle, like a shock wave. I dove behind a big concrete garbage bin with another guy, and we were all What The Hell?!?! There hadn’t been any noise or shouting or anything, just this instantaneous panic reaction with people fleeing and hiding.

Then some shouting started from the bottom of the escalator: “Stop it!”, “Hit the button!” We crawled out to look. Apparently a couple of trains were late and a crowd had formed on the platform. After a while there was nowhere for people to go when they got to the bottom of the escalator, creating a situation a lot like the one in the vid here, although not at Keystone Kops speed. Still, it was enough to create a perceived danger coming up the escalator and set 200 people on the mezzanine into instant diversion like a herd of wildebeests when one spots a lion.

Creepy. Total, immediate lizard-brain response.


Yeah, but only temporarily.


I’m not going to watch that video and I personally think there is no journalistic reason to post videos like this where you are watching real people getting hurt.


Don’t tell me what is funny or not. I laughed, I guess I’m a monster.

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This line just confused me. Is it supposed to be sarcastic?


I kinda agree, although I’m tempted to watch the video out of curiosity about the exact degree of failure of the machinery, because I like to meditate about breaking points and things like that. But I think I won’t.

I am more interested to hear about Otis Engineers allegedly hiding evidence and getting arrested. Otis, from what I know, is one of the most QA-focused companies in the world, and this would be a huge fucking deal if true.


I hope not. If nobody was killed, it’s a miracle.


I think it’s Rob’s way of reminding us not to turn this thread into a yuck-fest. And probably also a way to signal to people who don’t use the forum that Rob isn’t making light of the injuries.


There is journalistic value; it helps people imagine what they might do to help themselves or others when encountering a similar situation. Personally I was horrified (perhaps too strong a word) imagining what it would be like to be on that escalator, especially with a child. But I also was able to see where the problem was with the crowds response and, if I were to see something like that happen, I think I’d be much more prepared to respond with authority that clearing the crowd at the bottom was the most important thing.


Escalators are evil. I avoid them after having seen a kid get injured by one that was not even malfunctioning.

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That’s really interesting. And if it happens once, it’ll happen all the time, unless and until they change something about that situation.

He’s having his cake and eating it too. It’s a perk of being the original poster.


I read it as just the opposite. “Remember, there is nothing funny about this extremely hilarious thing. Haha, look at 'em go.”

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This happened literally because someone swapped two wires. Escalators typically use compound-wired DC motors because compound wiring gives you good torque and efficiency. Differential compound wiring (where half of the field windings are out-of-phase) also gives good speed regulation under varying loads, which is what you want in an escalator.

The big gotcha if a differential compound motor stalls from too much load, it can go unstable. It will reverse rotation and run as fast as possible until something blows up… which is why you must detect that and trip a shutdown. If that isn’t working or you don’t have it, you wire the motor cumulatively, no exceptions.


I was always afraid of escalators as a kid. It was the beginning and ending, in particular, and my imagination of being pulled into and ground up by the teeth of the steps.

Ironically, my dad was afraid of elevators because of a real incident in which one he was occupying dropped a short distance and had him trapped for almost an hour. So we took the stairs a lot when I was young. On the plus side, we have calves of steel!

I watched and didn’t laugh. I looked for the response of bystanders, and, sure enough, there were that minority of folks who went towards the problem and started dragging people clear of the base of the escalator almost immediately.