South Korea’s Escalator Technology is Climbing

In April 2015, South Korea’s new longest escalator in the country commenced operation. It had been six years since the opening of the Dangsan Station escalator at Seoul Metropolitan Subway Lines No. 2 and 9, which previously held the record. The longer an escalator, the more sophisticated its supporting technology.

The longest outdoor covered escalator in the world, registered in Guinness World Records, is the Central-Mid-Levels escalator and walkway system in Hong Kong. It took nearly two-and-a-half years to build this escalator, with construction wrapping up in 1994. The entire system traverses approximately 800 m and has an elevation of more than 135 m from bottom to top. In fact, the entire distance of 800 m is not connected in one rail, but rather consists of 20 escalators, three moving walks and a few street exits.

South Korea’s longest escalator covers the monorail platforms in underground levels 2 and 3, nonstop without a transfer, transporting up to 6,750 passengers per hour.

The system was used as a filming location for movies such as Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express (1994) and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008). As the escalator system is close to many tourist attractions, such as Hollywood Road, Cat Street, Man Mo Temple and SoHo, approximately 85,000 people from all over the world go through the system each day (wikipedia.org/wiki/Central–Mid-Levels_escalator_and_walkway_system).

Where is South Korea’s longest escalator located, then? It is in Sinnam Station of Subway Line 3 in Daegu City. This 57-m-long escalator was built and installed by Hyundai Elevator. The previous longest escalator in South Korea was the one in Dangsan Station of Seoul Metro Subway Lines 2 and 9 (48 m), and the second longest was in Beotigogae Station of Subway Line 6 (44 m).

South Korea’s longest escalator covers the monorail platforms in underground levels 2 and 3, nonstop without a transfer, transporting up to 6,750 passengers per hour. Its floor height is 28.37 m, and the length of its inclined sections is approximately 57 m.

Drive unit installed in an escalator used for long-distance travel

Escalators for Long Distance Versus General Use

Normally, escalators have drive units in the upper machine room, but modular (long-distance) escalators have drive units installed in at least two locations on the inclined section of the escalator. For instance, the system in Sinnam Station has five sets of drive units.

Compared with conventional escalators, modular escalators are shorter and narrower to increase available building space by approximately 10%. In addition, they diffuse the load on the traveling rail, step chains, handrails and guardrails to increase the life of components. Modular escalators are suitable for tall floor heights of at least 20 m.

Cutting Costs and Improving Quality

At the core of escalator technology is the desire to maintain the required level of quality at all times. The major criteria by which to assess the escalator quality can be divided into product quality and manufacturing quality. High product quality is characterized by low vibration, low noise and ride comfort, whereas high manufacturing quality is characterized by precision of production and assembly, as well as reliability.

Due to steadily intensifying competition, escalator makers are continuously seeking ways to cut costs, but domestic manufacturers cannot ignore the trends of the global escalator industry if they want to make quality products that please and impress customers. They must lower costs through standardizing production and design, and simplify installation, maintenance and repair to enhance construction and service quality.

Interior view of South Korea’s longest escalator

Exterior view of South Korea’s longest escalator

Technology Trends

Developments in escalator technology may be described broadly using three terms. The first is “eco friendly.” More new systems incorporate environmentally friendly components, including oilless step chains and press-working landing plates that eliminate etching processes that use environment-polluting chemicals such as hydrochloric and nitric acids. The second is “energy savings.” The industry is implementing energy savings by maximizing machinery efficiency through using regenerative inverters and making structural improvements.

Conventional versus modular escalator

The third term is “safety.” Lately, lift-related laws have been amended with respect to a range of safety measures, one of which is to retroactively apply a skirt deflector to escalators already in operation and to provide a reverse-traveling prevention apparatus. Safety-reinforcing technology will improve even further to help prevent one’s feet or clothing from getting stuck or passengers from slipping when they are exposed to the gap between the moving (step) and fixed (skirt, comb) parts.

In Almaty, Kazakhstan, an ultra-large escalator with a floor height of 46.2 m and length of 100 m was built in the Almaty Metro Subway Line 1 using South Korean technology. It was part of a contract awarded to Hyundai Elevator in 2007 to build 10 escalators in three, level-one station buildings on the subway line. This 100-m-long escalator is the longest escalator in Kazakhstan, its length without equal in South Korea. In fact, there are escalators of this scale in only three locations around the world: St. Petersburg; Kiev, Ukraine; and Prague, Czech Republic.

South Korean technology is earning a worldwide reputation for long-distance escalators and has proved its quality through successful projects in overseas markets. Moving forward, it is expected that the country’s lift sector will continue to improve its escalator technology.

Hong-gu Hur is chief editor of ELESTOR, the monthly elevator magazine published by the Korea Elevator Safety Institute.

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