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Sydneysiders have ridden on them for more than eight decades.
But just like the millions of shoes that have trodden all over them, the long wooden escalators at one of Sydney's busiest train stations seem to have worn out their welcome.
Following an application from Transport for NSW seeking their removal, the fate of the four escalators at Wynyard Station now lies in the hands of the Office of Environment and Heritage.
Wynyard duty manager Lance Hussey has mixed emotions about the escalators because he has seen his fair share of accidents on them over the near three decades he has worked there.
Photo: Steven Siewert
Wooden escalators have been a part of Wynyard Station since 1932.
"They are a part of Sydney's history but we have more injuries on them. If you have any problems with people [injuring themselves on escalators] it's on these," he said.
"We had a woman who tore her skirt straight off [after it got caught] – she came down in her panties."
Their wide wooden treads can be a trap, especially for high heels. Guide dogs have been injured after getting their claws stuck in the combs.
Yet as the first wooden escalators in Australia, the four at Wynyard are steeped in history.
Photo: Steven Siewert
The fate of the esclators lies in the hands of the Office of Environment and Heritage. According to a report for Sydney Trains, there are only seven wooden escalators left in the world – six of which are in Sydney and one in Buenos Aires in Argentina.
The other two in Sydney at Town Hall Station are expected to be removed early next year.
Photo: Steven Siewert
The escalators connect Wynyard Station's ground floor with York Street. Over the years there is almost nothing station staff haven't seen travel on the OTIS L-type escalators at Wynyard.
"The hoons used to ride down them on Friday and Saturday nights with sheets of cardboard in the '90s," Mr Hussey said.
The first three of the wooden escalators that grace the station were installed in 1932 – the same year the Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened – and the fourth added in 1952.Encased in timber veneer panelling, they connect the station's ground floor with a foyer that opens onto York Street.
Although wall and floor finishes have been replaced, a recent heritage report said it was possible the escalators' original finishes may have "survived concealed in some areas".
And while they have posed a risk for some people, Mr Hussey said Wynyard "would have been lost without them" because they are still a major thoroughfare for a station that handles more than 150,000 people a day.
They will get even more use in September when the Wynyard Walkway to Barangaroo opens.
However, the Guide Dogs Association has been lobbying for years for the wooden escalators to be removed because of the hazard they pose to dogs.
Several weeks ago a guide dog was injured when its claws became wedged between the wide timber slats of one of the escalators at Wynyard.
Guide Dogs NSW/ACT chief executive Graeme White said the latest incident highlighted the need to replace the wide tooth-comb escalators.
Experts have also raised concerns over the years about wooden escalators, citing a fire at Kings Cross Underground station in central London in 1987 that killed 31 people.
That fire started in a machine room under a wooden escalator on the Piccadilly line, quickly spreading through the station's upper levels.
The escalators at Wynyard have been treated with a fire retardant coating and fire sprinklers installed inside their enclosure.
The last of the wooden escalators at David Jones' flagship store in central Sydney were removed in 2001.
They had originally been built for the London Underground but were shipped in the 1930s to Australia where they were adapted to suit the department store.
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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