Escalators and elevators are both complicated, custom-built machines with thousands of moving parts and are an important part of moving hundreds of thousands of people through our stations every day. Maintaining them to keep them safe and reliable is a top priority for CTA.
These machines need periodic refurbishment or reconditioning to keep them in good, safe, reliable shape—this important work can require an escalator or elevator to be taken out-of-service and can take weeks (or even months) to complete.
About our escalators & elevators
The kinds of escalators and elevators in use on transit are custom-made, because they need to be specially designed and built for the unique (and sometimes extremely confined) spaces where they're installed.
The range of weather we experience in Chicago can put extra stresses on these machines, too. Our escalators and elevators have to stand up to extreme cold and heat, wet conditions (including salty, gritty winter slush!), and do so under extremely heavy traffic.
Unlike escalators in stores and office buildings, which are generally used only during opening hours and can be in temperature controlled environments, our escalators run 24/7 and carry a lot more people—often thousands of people an hour, adding up to millions of passengers a year.
For both escalators and elevators, these complicated machines have thousands of moving parts, many of which have to be custom-made to fit in a specific space designed before modern considerations.
What work happens with reconditioning and why does it take so long?
When reconditioning of an escalator is done, hundreds of parts can undergo inspection and those which need refurbishment or replacement may be removed, taken offsite and repaired. Sometimes, we may need to go to outside vendors to have custom replacement parts fabricated before we can finish repairs and return the escalator or elevator to service.
This is because the size and specifications for many components can be completely custom-made for the size and shape of the escalator or elevator that’s being repaired.
With individual parts that sometimes weigh more than a ton, work even to deliver a part can need platform or stairwell closures for delivery and installation and must be done after hours to minimize disruption.
Particularly with older escalators, heavy parts may need to be specially made for us by a capable steel forge who can produce large, one-of-a-kind components with great precision—we sometimes have to look far and wide (sometimes even across the Atlantic) for a forge that can make a part we need.
We understand that it can be both inconvenient when an escalator or elevator you use is unavailable during this important maintenance work, so we’re committed to returning a renovated, more reliable escalator or elevator to you as soon as possible.
Though the nature of this extensive work makes it necessary for long periods where an escalator or elevator might be out-of-service while it and its parts are reconditioned, it’s important that the work is done thoroughly and correctly to ensure safe, reliable service, around the clock, for years to come.
Though you may not see or hear the work that’s being done, you can rest assured our crews do everything they can to repair escalators and elevators as quickly as can be done.
More about our escalators and elevators (and their maintenance)
- There are more than 160 escalators and more than 170 elevators across the ‘L’ system’s 145 stations—each one specially made for the place where they are installed.
- A whole escalator typically weighs about 9 tons (18,000 pounds).
- An elevator cab and its machinery weighs about 7,500 pounds (not including the elevator’s shaft, track or tower!).
- A single escalator can move hundreds of people an hour—and hundreds of thousands per year.
- Most of our escalators run 24/7 to keep parts moving and avoid additional wear-and-tear from braking or reversing.
- Over the course of a year, an escalator tread can move 9,125 miles—together, all our escalators can move their treads six times the distance from Chicago to the moon every year!*
- The teams that work on reconditioning escalators and elevators include engineers, mechanics, sheet metal workers, ironworkers, carpenters and even bricklayers.
- CTA escalators and elevators need to be hardy enough to operate in temperatures well below 0°F and well above 100°F, and do so being subjected to water, ice, snow, salt, sand and dirt from people’s shoes—even metallic dust from trains’ wheels and brakes.
- A single escalator or elevator can have hundreds of moving parts.
- Some of the larger bits of work happen late at night—parts for these heavy machines, especially in subway stations, are often delivered by work train and installed later in the evening or overnight when we can close a track and/or parts of a platform without causing major disruptions to service.
- Much of the work on refurbishing an escalator can happen out-of-sight, beneath or behind an escalator or elevator, and work on individual components needing repair, refurbishment or reconditioning sometimes happens entirely offsite after components have been removed from the machine.
- Some of our oldest escalators date back to the opening of the State Street Subway in the 1940s (the subway that Red Line trains operate through, downtown).
- In some cases, especially with our oldest escalators, we’ve needed to look overseas for steel forges that can manufacture the massive, custom replacement parts that are needed during reconditioning. In some cases, we've had to get parts from steel forges as far away as Germany and have them shipped by land and sea to Chicago.
*Based on average distance from earth to moon