People walking up a Union Station escalator that's out of service.
People walking up a Union Station escalator that's out of service. - 
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Bob Moon: We've got an escalating problem in the nation's capitol. I mean escalating problem. The city's Metro subway system is trying to fix trouble with its broken escalators, some of which stretch for hundreds of feet, meaning long walks up long staircases during a long, hot summer.

David Schultz of station WAMU reports.

David Schultz: At Union Station, one of Metro's busiest stations, there are two escalators leading out of the platform. One of them is under construction and the other is shutdown, which means it's essentially just a set of stairs -- a really, really long set of stairs.

Ashley Kristof uses this station every day.

Ashley Kristof:So this has been a small nightmare for the last four months.

Kristof points to a plywood barrier surrounding the escalator under construction, with posters on it detailing why it's out of commission.

Kristof: I think it's a mix of Metro trying to look like they're doing something, so people aren't upset and it looks like "We're making repairs!" But I think it actually just makes people more angry, more than anything.

Metro has almost 600 escalators, and according to its own numbers, only 60 percent are functioning at any given time. It's even worse when the weather's bad.

Tim Hoepfl: If it rains, outside units -- I'm sorry to say -- most of them will cut off. The handrails slip, the brakes are wet and it will cut off.

That's Tim Hoepfl, a Metro escalator technician speaking at a labor town hall meeting.

Metro's escalators are long. One is 230 feet -- the longest escalator in the Western Hemisphere. When those escalators shut down, only the most athletic of riders can climb up them.

Hoepfl: And I know that a lot of this is design. And a lot of people have complained and now Metro is listening.

Metro has plans to spend more than $130 million over the next six years to rehabilitate many of its escalators. In the meantime, Washingtonians are praying it doesn't rain.

In Washington, I'm David Schultz for Marketplace.

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