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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

When Escalators Stop

Walking up stationary escalators

© 2005 NK Guy; used with permission

Yesterday when coming home, I noticed there was something weird about the people coming up the escalators at Leicester Square (they weren't dressed as Santas - that's the best escalator picture I could find for this chilly time of year in London - I was freezing at work yesterday!).

No-one on the up escalator was actually moving. It was as though someone had pressed a pause button on a video. After a few seconds of surprise and looking around at each other, they realised the escalator had just stopped and as there was no sign of it starting again, they had to walk up.

There was no explanation as to why it had stopped and some people may have welcomed the exercise. But I wonder how many of them about to walk onto the suddenly halted escalator had "Escalator Wobble"?

From a post some time ago I reported that scientists at Imperial College with too much time on their hands had done a study on this "They have got to the bottom of "broken escalator wobble". You know the sensation you get when you step onto an escalator that isn't working although you think it is and you lose your balance or get a bit dizzy. Apparently it's the conflict between what the brain knows is going to happen (no movement) and what it thinks is going to happen, based on previous experience (movement). We all speed up when approaching an escalator, so when it isn't moving we stumble. The Professors at Imperial didn't test this on escalators though (although I'm sure they had plently of broken ones to choose from), but on sleds in a laboratory."

Also have you noticed how the Tube sometimes stop escalators outside of the rush hour in an effort to save the environment?

I haven't got a picture but you might have seen the large posters at the bottom of these escalators with a picture of the Earth and some sort of copy about how turning off escalators which aren't being used saves X amount of power per second/minute or whatever, and that London Underground aren't being tight bastards but are actually saving the planet. (Very much like the signs you get in hotels about not using towels unneccessarily which also saves the planet). Saving the world is clearly more important than potential escalator wobble.

Perhaps the London Underground also ought to add a note about how many calories they are helping us to burn by getting us to walk up escalators, and are therefore helping the battle against obesity too.


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