Hordes of Metro riders had to trudge up and down the escalators at the Rosslyn station Wednesday morning as all four entrance escalators were out of service for just over an hour during the morning rush.

The agency's fifth-longest escalators, 194 feet of steps top to bottom, were felled by a broken handrail, a faulty step, electrical problems and noisy machinery, according to Metro.

But the problems weren't just at the busy Rosslyn station. Throughout the system, about one of every six escalators -- 102 of the agency's 588 escalators -- were listed as out of service at one point on Wednesday.

Metro now acknowledges what riders have sensed for months: The problem has gotten worse since last fall, when escalator troubles reached a crisis point with a high-profile accident at L'Enfant Plaza. An outside consultant said then that Metro was failing to properly maintain its equipment, leading to massive problems.

Plywood a sign of hope?
Metro is rolling out new signs around escalators under repair, with posters on brightly colored plywood walls explaining the work under way.
Those plywood barricades around the units also mean that crews are rehabilitating or even replacing escalators, not just making minor repairs, said Metro spokesman Dan Stessel.

But escalator availability declined to less than 85 percent this summer, below Metro's goal even after the agency dropped its own target. And it's been taking longer to repair the escalators, the agency said in a report slated to be presented publicly on Thursday. The mean time to repair unexpected outages on escalators has gone up from 13 hours to nearly 16 hours in the first seven months of this year.

Furthermore, it will take "years, not months" for the system to rehabilitate enough escalators so riders can safely put away their hiking shoes, said Metro spokesman Dan Stessel.

Metro officials say the increase in outages is expected as the agency boosts its efforts to make things better and "fix it right" the first time with an $148 million elevator and escalator rebuilding program.

"We're doing more inspections, we're finding more things that need to be repaired," Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.

The number of hours that escalators are out of service for modernization has gone up by 36 percent and up by 121 percent for inspections, the report says.

Agency officials are pleased with the progress made so far but not with the pace of it, Stessel said.

Metro has improved on preventive maintenance, meeting its own maintenance schedule 52 percent of the time after averaging only 39 percent last fall. Still, that's far below the 85 percent level that the agency would like to reach.

The agency plans to hire an outside contractor to take over maintenance for at least nine Orange Line stations by early next year, with the possibility of doing more. It plans to put the work out to bid this month because it would take Metro four years to hire and train new workers itself, Stessel said.

The extra workers will mean that the agency can do more preventive maintenance immediately, but the long-haul rebuilding will still take time, he said.

"It will be a gradual process," he said. "We are currently moving in the right direction."