National halt to use of Otis escalator

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 July, 2011, 12:00am

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The mainland's quality watchdog has ordered a nationwide halt to the use of one model of escalator made by Otis, which the authorities said bore 'unshakeable responsibility' for a malfunction that killed a boy at a Beijing subway station on Tuesday.

Otis China spokeswoman Li Mingjie said it was sending three specialists to Beijing to examine the defective escalator, which reversed direction suddenly on Tuesday morning, but she said she did not know whether it was an independent Otis probe or a joint one with government officials. She said the company would have no further comment until the investigation concluded.

The sudden reversal of the escalator at the Beijing Zoo station on the city's Subway Line 4 on Tuesday morning killed a 13-year-old boy and injured 30 other people. A public notice issued by Beijing MTR Corporation - 49 per cent owned by Hong Kong's MTR Corporation - said Otis engineers had performed maintenance work on the escalator as recently as June 22.

At a media briefing on Thursday night, Zhang Juming , deputy director of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine's Beijing branch, said it had ordered an immediate halt to the use of Otis 513 MPE model escalators on the mainland.

'Initial investigation so far shows that the accident is a result of design and machinery flaws of that model of Otis escalator,' he said. 'At the same time, [the company] didn't do proper maintenance on the escalator, so it can't shirk its responsibility.'

Otis had earlier refused to reveal the model of the escalator at the subway station. Its website describes the 513 MPE as a heavy-duty escalator, but some transport experts say specifications provided by the company show that it might not be built for heavy loads, cannot cope with rush-hour passenger flows at busy subway stations and could pose serious safety risks.

Zhang said the accident was a direct result of worn-out fasteners that allowed the main motor to shift, causing conveyor chains to fall off, although the exact cause was still to be determined by the National Elevator Inspection and Testing Centre.

He said the administration had also issued an urgent directive ordering the inspection of all escalators at subway stations, airports, public transport stations and shopping malls on the mainland, under the supervision of its regional branches.

The Beijing municipal government had earlier suspended the operation of all 257 Otis escalators in the capital and halted the procurement of Otis products, saying it would initiate a recall if necessary.

Meanwhile, an Otis lift in an office building in Shanghai's Xuhui district, with more than a dozen people in it, fell suddenly around lunchtime on Thursday before stopping, the Oriental Morning Post reported yesterday. It said the accident was caused by worn-out parts and no casualties were reported.

Li said there was no connection between the accident in Shanghai and the one in Beijing.