Looking Back at a Megaproject


Structural bracing near the portal just north of WMATA’s Grosvenor station; image courtesy of GWU Archives via Greater Greater Washington

Subways and commuter rail systems are important transportation options in most of the large cities in the U.S. They help reduce roadway congestion and the pollution produced by automobiles and, because they are either underground or elevated, they provide quick and efficient travel throughout metro areas. And, as we all know, thanks to the Americans With Disabilities Act, their stations and platforms are equipped with vertical transportation: large-capacity elevators and heavy-duty escalators that keep people on the move. In a nostalgic look back at the genesis of one of the nation’s best-known metro systems, website Greater Greater Washington has posted photographs documenting the construction of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Metrorail system serving the Washington, D.C., area, the first segment of which opened in 1976. The digitized photographs were released by the George Washington University (GWU) Archives, and include a rendering of the Wheaton Station escalators, the longest single-span escalators in the Western Hemisphere. If you’re into construction photographs, these will give you a fascinating look behind the scenes at the work involved in creating the nation’s second-busiest metro system.

Next Stop: Sci-Fi Dystopia; Rather, Quarantine Hotel in China

When we first heard about hotels testing delivery robots that could ride elevators on their own, our first thought was that it was highly weird and disconcerting. That was before COVID-19. Now, these robots are delivering meals and speaking to those in Chinese quarantine hotels in “eerie, childlike voices,” The Japan Times is among news outlets to report. Still highly weird and disconcerting, the elevator-riding robots have seemingly found their purpose as part of a system that involves “ghostly figures in hazmat suits and cameras pointed at front doors” that Chinese authorities have put in place at hotels where people are isolated after arriving from overseas or from one of the coronavirus hotspots. The source describes the setup as “China’s sci-fi quarantine watch.” It brings to mind stories like Margaret Atwood’s fascinating Handmaid’s Tale (the book is better than the TV show) and the highly underrated movie Moon starring Sam Rockwell, in which the actor Kevin Spacey portrays the only “virtual friend” of a man mining alone on the moon. I highly recommend you check the movie out.

Taking the Stairs

Firefighters in their gear run toward the tower in the 2018 Tower Run; photo by Ewa Krzeszowiak.

If you’re a runner or first responder, what better place is there to test your mettle than Western Europe’s tallest test tower? On September 15, some 1,000 participants will be in Rottweil, Germany, to face the challenging 1,390 steps inside thyssenkrupp’s elevator testing facility for the official Tower Run German Championship. While racing up a 232-m-tall structure might seem a little daunting, it has proved to be an attractive challenge: even though organizers expanded the number of runners, all slots were booked in only a few hours and 300 more people are participating than did last year. It’s not hard to see why. The tower sits in Rottweil, a picturesque, quintessentially European burg that’s the oldest town in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. Runners who make it to the top will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the Black Forest and the Swiss Alps.

International participants, both amateurs and professionals and representing a broad range of ages, will flock to Rottweil from 15 nations, including Austria, Mexico, Italy, France, England, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the U.S. This year, police officers will participate in their own classification.

It has to be daunting to know you have nearly 1,400 steps to climb; photo by Ewa Krzeszowiak.

“The Tower Run has quickly established itself as an attraction and crowd-puller — far beyond the region,” said thyssenkrupp CEO Peter Walker. “As a sporting event it is not only taken seriously but also enjoys an excellent reputation. Here, sports enthusiasts impressively demonstrate that urban mobility does not always have to be functional.”

About 50 runners, including technicians from Spain and Italy, will represent thysennkrupp. “For us, this challenge means conquering the highest heights,” said Francisco Blázquez Castaño, a thyssenkrupp maintenance technician from Madrid. “The test tower in Rottweil is an icon that people all over the world know and admire. We feel like winners just by participating. Our colleagues are very supportive, and that encourages us to try harder and give our best at the Tower Run.”

The thyssenkrupp test tower looks down over Rottweil and the Black Forest; photo by Alicia Wüstner.

thyssenkrupp looks at the Rottweil test tower as a symbol of its engineering skills. It’s here that the company is testing its MULTI units, the world’s only ropeless, vertically as well as horizontally moving elevator. The tower is also used to test and certify high-speed elevators and the latest generation of thyssenkrupp’s TWIN elevators, in which two independent cabins operate within a single shaft. The tower, which houses Germany’s highest viewing platform, is a tourist magnet, drawing nearly 400,000 visitors as of August 2019.

The view from the top is its own reward; photo by Jasmin Fischer.