The replacement of the three main escalators at the Bethesda Metro station could start as early as Oct. 6 and will take an estimated two-and-a-half years, Metro said Thursday.

County officials and local business leaders have been wary of the escalator replacement for some time, all the while asking Metro to move up the replacement because of regular breakdowns.

Because of the design of the Bethesda station and the length of the escalators (at 106 feet, the escalators are the second longest in the Western Hemisphere, behind the ones at Wheaton) Metro officials have said it will be a long and complicated process.

Metro and contractor KONE will install the new escalators one at a time, while keeping one escalator running up and one running down for the duration of the project.

Because demolition of the more than 30-year-old escalators can only be done during a four-hour work period when the station is closed at night, the entire replacement of each escalator will take about 10 months. After demolition of the existing escalators, crews must construct, install and test the new ones.

“Taken together, these factors extend the project timeline to about 2 ½ years,” according to a Metro press release. “However, the new escalators have already been manufactured and are in storage so the project can move forward efficiently.”

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For the duration of the project, Metro will station Transit Police, emergency management, rail supervision and escalator technicians at the Bethesda station at all times to monitor operations and ensure there’s no overcrowding on the escalators still in service.

But that reassurance comes with a caveat:

“However, riders should be aware that in the event of a service disruption, the station may need to be temporarily closed to prevent safety hazards related to overcrowding,” read the press release. “This may happen with little advance notice. When the station is temporarily closed, Red Line trains will bypass the station in both directions and passengers on the platform will have to exit the station.”

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With that in mind, Metro offered a few words of advice for passengers who use the station:

Advice for Bethesda Customers

  • For safety reasons, Metro may need to temporarily close Bethesda Station to prevent overcrowding during service disruptions or other events, such as a disabled train, medical emergency, infrastructure problem or power failure. This may happen with little advance notice. When the station is temporarily closed, Red Line trains will bypass the station in both directions and passengers on the platform will have to exit the station.
  • Review your options now, and create an alternate plan for the possibility that Bethesda Station is not available.
  • During temporary closures, Metro will provide shuttle bus service between Bethesda and Medical Center Stations.  If you are on the train, exit at Medical Center and take a free shuttle bus to Bethesda. For travelers who are not yet in the system, you may want to go directly to one of the two nearest alternate stations: Medical Center and Friendship Heights. Medical Center is just over a mile to the north (approximately 20 minute walk) on Wisconsin Ave, and Friendship Heights is less than two miles to the south.
  • Metrobus and RideOn buses may provide good alternatives, so you are urged to familiarize yourself now with local bus routes.
  • Sign up for MetroAlerts to receive emails or text messages alerting you whenever there is a disruption on the Red Line or closure of the Bethesda station.  MetroAlerts will send another notification when the station has reopened.  You can sign up at wmata.com/MetroAlerts.

Flickr photo via ehpien

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