Thursday, December 4, 2008

The stairs, they are a-crumblin'

There have been the usual problems on the Franklin line in past months, including quite a few 30+ minute delays. These have become so routine that they're hardly worth an entry here.

But there's a much more interesting problem that has come to light at Ruggles recently.

The commuter rail station at Ruggles has two long stairways. One is entirely covered by the Ruggles roof, although water leaks copiously through that roof in many places and the stairs are often soaked on rainy days (even inside the main area of the station itself, it's often like a rain storm indoors on wet days).

The bottom of the other stairway extends out under the open sky. Here's a current photo from the top of the stairs:

That would be quite a fall, wouldn't it?

Now, that stairway was closed for two or three years straight because it was unsafe. Finally in August 2007 it was repaired and reopened. But in the sixteen or so months since it reopened, it has already decayed badly and it again seems very unsafe - an accident waiting to happen.

At least eight stairs are loose, partially detached from the underlying cement. Here's a video of one of them:


If you look closely, you'll see the surface of the stair pop upwards as it's stepped on by the passing commuter, and then fall back down again. You can hear it click as it moves.

It seems that T personnel may not have actually repaired the stairs; I may be wrong, but it looks as if instead they just covered them with new non-skid surfaces. That might be a perfectly adequate replacement (I don't know, I'm not a safety expert) except for one small problem: the nails (or possibly screws) that they used to attach those new surfaces to the underlying, possibly crumbling cement steps are melting. Whatever they're made of, they're fast rusting away to featureless spikes - some are completely gone. And many of the stairs are half-loose from the underlying surface as a result.

Perhaps that rusting process will suddenly stop. But I don't think so. You can't help but wonder about the competence of an organization that would use fasteners liable to rust on an outdoor repair job! Suddenly, the many problems of the Big Dig seem less surprising.

I suspect that the stairway is going to be closed again for repairs, soon. How many years might that process take this time? In 2005-2007, the economy was relatively healthy and the T's budget situation might not have been quite as bad as it is now. So how long will commuters at Ruggles have to put up with either dangerous stairs, or only a single usable stairway?

Apart from the loose stair surfaces, there are a number of steps that have a curious bounce to them when stepped on. It almost feels as if the rubbery surfaces are unsupported; as if the concrete which is supposed to underlie them simply isn't there. The mortar-like substance that was used on the sides of the steps has broken and crumbled away in many cases. But at the very bottom stair, the cement of the underlying step can be seen - and it's not a pretty picture.

Or video, in this case:


What the heck; here's a picture, too.

Notice the rust, and the badly decayed condition of the step. How do the other steps look, I wonder, under their non-skid covering?

And how much could the MBTA and the state be sued for, if (when?) one of those steps gives way, and one or more people are catapulted down that long flight of stairs? How much of the upcoming rate increase would a multi-million dollar settlement eat up?

Lastly, what would it take to get a professional repair job done? I can't imagine it would be more expensive than the liability that the T seems to be courting with their incredibly poorly-maintained facility at Ruggles.