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Black boxes for all Beijing's escalators

By Yan Shuang (Global Times)

08:56, April 20, 2012

All escalators and elevators in Beijing's public places will be equipped with a "black box" by 2015, a device that sends real-time information about the escalator operations to maintenance teams in case of accidents or malfunctions, according to Beijing Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision Wednesday.

Zhao Changshan, head of the bureau, said in a Beijing Public Service Radio program that among the 140,000 escalators and elevators in Beijing, 24 percent have been in use for more than a decade, and are old.

"Most of the old ones have safety hazards," said Zhao, adding that although there have been major escalator accidents in Beijing in the past year, the malfunction frequency of Beijing's escalators remains at a lower rate than the national average.

An accident at Beijing Zoo Station on Subway Line 4 on July 5 last year, in which an escalator malfunction killed one and injured 30, has led to intense public attention into the quality supervision and maintenance of escalators.

"The elevators in our buildings break a lot. The buttons don't work, and the doors won't open. But the buildings are new," said Zhao Junsen, a resident in Mentougou district.

"The property management office sends repairmen when we report a malfunction. But they're not professionals and the elevator will be broken again," he told the Global Times.

The "black box," like those on aircraft, will send real-time information to a central control system. If there is an accident, the system will send the information via text messages to the quality supervision administrators, the property management or the escalator maintenance team and a rescue team will arrive in 30 minutes.

The new plan sounds reassuring but it is difficult to implement citywide in such a short time, said Yang Jianwu, professor of mechanics with Beijing University of Technology.

"Many imported elevators and escalators already carry a set of information-recording and surveillance devices, but in China they're mostly left unused because there's no complete surveillance and control system," Yang said.

The black box is an extra device added on existing machines, and there might be operation problems because not all of the escalators, especially old ones, can work well together with the information recorder in the control system, he noted.

With a municipal government investment of 250,000 yuan ($39,650), a pilot program will be first conducted in Dongcheng district, where 2,000 escalators and elevators will have the box installed, said Zhao Changshan.

The escalator maintenance team still needs improvement, said Yang, given that most maintenance employees lack the necessary maintenance skills and experience.

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