Ashfield mall escalators finally reopen as experts warn others nearing 'end of their lifetime'
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Ashfield locals are celebrating the reopening of what has been dubbed Sydney's worst escalator after about two years out of order.
Perhaps the most notorious example of unreliable escalators, the inner-west shopping mall's moving staircase is far from the only one to test the patience of shoppers and commuters.
Veterans of the lift industry, which includes escalators, say the regular interruptions are a combination of routine maintenance, recent floods and ageing escalators.
In Ashfield mall's case, shopping centre management last year blamed "significant delays in receiving new parts from overseas".
"In addition to this, heavy rain has made draining necessary," it posted on Facebook in June last year.
Management later decided to abandon repairs and install a set of stairs from Germany.
"The new escalator has been purpose-built for the space and made to withstand outdoor conditions," it posted.
In June, they announced it would be ready in August, prompting the creation of a Facebook event by enthusiastic local Jack Freund-Wimborne.
It's now finally happening, but Mr Freund-Wimborne is not getting too carried away.
"I think that it probably won't last long and is eternally cursed but here's to hoping," he said.
He puts the long wait down to neglect.
"It's definitely riled up the community of Ashfield," he said.
"I feel Ashfield has kind of been second best forever. And I would like it to not be second best anymore."
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He intends to hold a small party to celebrate.
Lift Engineers Society of Australia president John Tibbitts says there's no technical reason for a repair or installation to take so long. 
Depending on the problem, of course, Mr Tibbitts says a simple repair can be done in a matter of hours. The longest should take a few weeks.
Since Australia's first escalator arrived in 1909 for Mark Foy's new emporium in Sydney, they have been saving our legs the task of going up and down stairs.
That first foray into moving staircases ended after just five years when it was removed due to unreliability.
There are now more than 40,000 escalators in Australia in department stores, train stations and office buildings.
While the technology has improved, breakdowns continue.
Three of 144 escalators at Sydney train stations are broken; one at Town Hall, one at Parramatta and one at Wynyard. That doesn't include those closed for maintenance.
In the past three years, Sydney Trains has recorded 4,151 escalator faults — almost 29 stoppages per escalator — costing $3.8 million to repair.
Rod Post, a lift consultant who has worked in the industry for 35 years, says ageing machines and recent years of heavy rain and floods have increased the demand for repairs.
Many escalators in Sydney have been running for about 40 years.
"There'd be a lot of escalators that were installed in the '80s and they'd be coming to the end of their lifetime or well and truly past it," Mr Post said.
Mr Tibbitts says shopping centres tended to upgrade their escalators to draw customers in, so the older ones were generally in public spaces.
"If you're looking at something like a railway station, why would you want to update your escalators? Every two or three years, they're pulled apart totally and put back together again."
Despite the ageing machines, he hasn't noticed any increase in breakdowns.
Mr Tibbitts says one breakdown a month is actually within reliability targets for lifts or escalators given their long hours of operation.
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He also points out that just because it's not working, doesn't mean it's broken.
"Quite often it will be turned off and it probably will be being maintained at least once a week, which makes it look like it's turned off."
Mr Tibbitts, who started as a lift engineer in 1959, says they need servicing so often because they run continuously for up to 24 hours a day.
"[They] very often run 10, 12, 14 hours a day, so those moving components, they need to be serviced to see if things are stretching or need grazing or cleaning or whatever."
Outdoor escalators exposed to the elements are more at risk, Mr Post says: "There's no such thing as a waterproof escalator."
Sydney Trains' history booklet Escalation Sensation explains how escalators work: "An escalator is essentially a conveyor with three basic components: moving handrails, stairs and a power unit, all supported with a steel truss."
Often, it's not the machinery that fails.
"Most stoppages would be due to passengers rather than equipment," says Mr Tibbitts who has seen all kinds of antics go wrong on escalators.
Teenagers hitting the stop buttons, for example, or pressing their foot up to the edge which can throw off the timing, sitting down on the steps and getting caught at the top or bottom.
The combs at the top and bottom of escalators often need replacing too as the teeth get broken off by stuff wedged into the grooves in the stairs.
Mr Post adds other common issues are caused by water getting in and vandalism of the rubber handrails.
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