Faulty Peace Tower elevator broke down 47 times so far this year

The elevator inside the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill has broken down 47 times since January — and on 10 of those occasions, visitors were trapped inside.

Visitors to Parliament Hill were trapped inside the lift 10 times since January

Melissa Batchelor-Murphy, right, was one of a group of visitors trapped in the Peace Tower elevator in May after the lift malfunctioned. The elevator has broken down 47 times this year, trapping people like Batchelor-Murphy inside on 10 occasions. (Melissa Batchelor-Murphy/Twitter)

Melissa Batchelor-Murphy's recent trip aboard the Peace Tower elevator had some serious ups and downs. 

And not just because she and six others ended up trapped inside the teeny, eight-person-capacity lift — for an hour —after it broke down two-thirds of the way up Parliament's iconic 92-metre tower. 

What really pushed her buttons, she says, was when her tour guide revealed just how common it was for the tower's sole lift to fail — and only mentioned it once they were trapped inside.

"She goes, 'This happens a lot,'" said Batchelor-Murphy, an associate professor from Fairfax, Va. "I was like, 'I can't believe they let people come in this elevator and they know that it breaks down all the time.'"

According to government data requested by CBC News, the Peace Tower elevator has broken down 47 times since the beginning of this year due to a litany of malfunctions ranging from sensor failures to door glitches to issues with the cable that transmits power to the elevator car.

During 10 of those incidents, visitors like Batchelor-Murphy were stuck inside.

Breakdowns on the rise

On average, about 200,000 people a year take the lift to the Peace Tower's observation deck, according to figures from the Library of Parliament. 

Elevator breakdowns have become more and more frequent over the past three years, as Parliament prepares to close its main Centre Block building for 10 years of renovations in January.

In 2016, Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) logged just 12 service calls for the lift.

In 2017, that number tripled to 36.

The number of times visitors were trapped inside the elevator also shot up.

Just one entrapment occurred in 2016, and only two in 2017. 

The lift's number of breakdowns and entrapments are "higher than average, that's clear," according to Doug Guderian, whose company, Elevator One, maintains about 1,000 elevators in Ontario, not including the Peace Tower elevator.

Guderian said that generally, elevators "average between six and 10 breakdowns" per year, and noted that more frequent malfunctions usually occur as a result of factors such as age, lack of maintenance or vandalism by users.

'Increasing risk of failure'

Michèle LaRose, a spokesperson for PSPC, told CBC News that despite the breakdowns, the Peace Tower lift remains safe for use.

But, she added, "Centre Block's structural, mechanical and electrical systems are at increasing risk of failure" and the building "currently has systems that are old and outdated that need replacing, including the Peace Tower elevator."

Thyssenkrupp, the company that services the elevator, said in a statement to CBC News that it "takes great pride in responding to and remediating any operational issues in a timely fashion." 

On average, about 200,000 visitors a year take the elevator to the Peace Tower's viewing deck, which is just below the 92-metre-high structure's clock face. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

Repairs to the elevator cost $110,000 in 2018 alone — although 90 per cent of that went toward the purchase and installation of a new travelling cable for the elevator in March. LaRose said replacing the cable, which transmits power to the elevator car, was part of scheduled maintenance.

Still, the new cable and other fixes made in the past year will only prolong the life of the lift until renovations on the Peace Tower begin. Tours are slated to end in January, when the entire Centre Block will shut down to the public.

While the Peace Tower was completed in 1927, the full-height elevator was only built in the early 1980s after renovations improved fire safety and overhauled the tower's observation area. Unlike typical elevators, the Peace Tower lift travels at an angle for part of its journey upward, using two shafts instead of one — a factor Thyssenkrupp said "can present atypical challenges."

Batchelor-Murphy and her group celebrate after reaching the tower's observation deck. They were stuck in the tiny lift with a parliamentary guide for about an hour. (Submitted by Melissa Batchelor-Murphy)

PSPC said Centre Block's upcoming renovations will be the building's first extensive revamp in more than a century — a fact Batchelor-Murphy remembered her tour guide telling her on her way to the viewing deck.

"We were told this was going to be one of the [last] few tours because it was going to be shut down and renovated," Batchelor-Murphy recalled.

"We were like, 'That's good, because this elevator needs to be fixed, for sure,'" she said.


Patrick Butler is a Radio-Canada journalist based in St. John's. He previously worked for CBC News in Toronto and Montreal.