About escalator design and installation

On October 4th, 1911, Britain’s first escalator was unveiled at London’s Earl’s Court Underground Station. Exciting stuff! But, in truth, the public was extremely nervous about using a moving staircase. Enter Bumper Harris, a man with a wooden leg, employed to ride the escalator all day, to demonstrate its safety. That did the trick. Escalators proved so successful, between 1911 and 1915 twenty-two further machines were installed on the London Underground.

Essential considerations

When it comes to designing a new escalator, you need to consider the following:

  • Where will it be installed?
  • What’s the building’s infrastructure like, and how will it affect the design?
  • How much traffic will it deal with?
  • What are the safety considerations?
  • Aesthetically, are there any specific requirements?

And, not forgetting:

  • How much is all this going to cost?!

The nuts and bolts

There are several components to the modern escalator design:

  •  The Landing Platform — contains the curved parts of the tracks, the gears and motors. The top platform usually houses the motor assembly and main drive gear, while the bottom platform has the step return idler sprockets.
  • Truss — the escalator’s structural frame, which also connects the upper and lower landings.
  • Tracks — guides the step chain, which pulls the steps from the bottom platform to the top, in a continuous loop.
  • Steps — solid, one piece, and made of die-cast aluminium or steel. Steps are linked by a continued metal chain that forms a closed loop.
  • Handrail — is pulled along its own track. Covered in a blend of synthetic polymers and rubber, handrails are designed to resist degradation, wear and tear, and vandalism.
  • Balustrade — supports the handrails and exterior structure of the escalator.

Installation can take up to six months

Once your design has been finalised, a manufacturer constructs the pieces and then passes it on to a secondary supplier, who assembles all the bespoke parts before delivery. While this is going on, the receiving building needs to be prepared: the landing areas are filled with concrete, with steel framework being installed for the truss.

After delivery, the bespoke escalator is lowered into position carefully. Managing the sheer size of an escalator – which is often custom-built for their buildings – in addition to performing safety checks, can mean a 20-week escalator installation, or even longer.

Did you know: London Underground escalators are unique as they are modular, which makes it easier to assemble in cramped spaces.

The shape of things to come

As more new buildings are built, controlling the flow of people — in new shopping centres or airports — can make or break the architecture, having a huge impact upon trade. Unquestionably, the escalator triumphs over the lift, as people can be carried continuously, with little waiting involved. Since escalators are installed around the world where lifts prove impractical, they’ve quickly cemented their position as an integral part of the modern urban landscape.

Looking forward, escalators can only improve and become more ambitious in their design. Eco-friendly enhancements, and aesthetically dramatic escalators, are likely to be the future. One such example is the dramatic six-storey spiral moving staircase, made up of 12 curved escalators installed in a Shanghai shopping centre in 2015. Hold on tight!