How Transit Works in Snow and Ice

The National Weather Service recently confirmed what heavy rains have hinted at: La Niña is here.

Get ready for this.
Get ready for this.

Below-average temperatures and above-average rainfall — and perhaps snow and ice — have been observed in the Pacific Northwest this fall, and both could continue through the winter, according to NWS predictions.

What do you think when you hear this? Are you the type to buy a season pass to Mt. Hood Meadows, assured that the snowpack will stretch well into spring? Perhaps blankets and board games (and Netflix!) is more your thing. For us, preparation for the inevitability of snow and ice events has already begun.

Related: Learn your snow route

Making the Call

We value safety, so determining whether to alter service in a winter weather event is simple: If a situation is potentially unsafe for riders, operators or equipment, we take action.

Bus in snow

In practice, this means being ultra-aware of conditions across the system. To make this easier, we set up an Emergency Operations Center that’s staffed 24/7 during winter weather events, and allows us to streamline and speed up the process of gathering information, making decisions and disseminating information. (Activating an EOC during an emergency is standard practice across all types of agencies.)

We rely on and share information from the field and from regional partners like PBOT, ODOT and local media outlets. We track storms as they approach and coordinate with other agencies to plow and sand streets — we even have a few sanding trucks of our own to run on high elevation bus routes.

The Plan for Buses

Preparing buses for snow and ice often begins before service starts for the day. Specialized crews (affectionately known as “Snowbirds”) assess bus routes, specifically at high elevations, to see if they’re safe for normal bus operations. They might call for a sanding truck, put the line on snow route or cancel a run entirely.

Bus at curb in snow

Like other cars and trucks on the road, buses will often be chained if they’re running on snowy or icy streets. Just under half our buses have drop down “insta-chains,” which operators can deploy at the push of a button. (Otherwise, crews will chain the fleet at the garage or in the field, which takes just 10 or 15 minutes per bus, respectively.)

For riders, it’s important to keep in mind that chained buses travel slower — no faster than 25 mph — so they won’t stay on schedule. And in winter conditions your bus won’t pull up to the curb, lest it slide or become stuck. If that happens, we have rescue teams on standby to get it moving again.

MAX Service

MAX typically does well in snow, and we take measures to prevent ice buildup. Throughout the system, switches on the track are equipped with covers (some have heaters, too) and portions of the overhead wire have ice caps to keep ice at bay.

MAX in snow

The trains have pantograph heaters that are activated in snow and ice, and these also help prevent ice from accumulating. (The pantograph is the arm that connects the train to overhead power.) If necessary, we’ll run some trains overnight to keep ice from building up on the overhead wire. And if you’re at the station when one of these trains pulls up — for whatever reason, at whatever time — we’ll let you board!

If ice does begin to accumulate on the overhead wire, we have six MAX vehicles equipped with heated ice cutters on a second pantograph that can shave approximately 1/32 inch of ice off the wire with each pass.

Related: Tips for riding in winter weather

What You Need to Know

We’ve already mentioned that your bus will likely be late and perhaps on a different route (learn yours!) during snow and ice. If it gets too far off its normal schedule, we’ll turn off TransitTracker so estimated arrival times (which aren’t accurate when buses are traveling slower) become approximate distances — much more useful for planning your trip.

But don’t assume that snow means your bus is on snow route. We often need to alter service in the face of unpredictable weather, so instead check with us for updates on your lines: You’ll find service alerts and snow route updates at trimet.org/alerts, on Twitter and through our email list.

people in snow

Aside from checking your bus or train’s status before starting your trip, make sure your phone is charged and that you have water and warm clothing — don’t forget gloves and a hat. Leave plenty of time to walk to your stop or station and be extra careful on slopes. We (and our regional partners) do our best to de-ice roads, bridges, garages, platforms and parking lots, but you’ll likely find some slippery spots along the way. And if your bus stop is on a hill, head to the top or bottom to board — the bus can’t safely stop on a slope.

Finally, don’t approach the bus until it comes to a complete stop and the driver opens the door. There’s always a chance it could slide toward the curb once the brakes have locked the wheels.

If we’re faced with severe weather, we might need to reduce service to certain bus lines running on plowed streets. The idea is that by reassigning buses where they are most useful and less likely to get stuck, we can serve more riders.

As we mentioned at the top, our goal is to keep everyone safe. So even as things slow down, know that there’s a lot going on behind the scenes to coordinate safe travel in difficult circumstances. Winter weather requires extra effort from all of us, and we appreciate your trust, patience and preparedness when the time comes.

Which reminds us: Have you learned your snow route?

 

Brian Lum

Brian Lum

I'm TriMet's Web & Social Media Specialist. I'm here to help tell our story, and to share the interesting things I find along the way. When I'm not here, you'll find me out riding my bike and taking pictures.

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Instagram Roundup: November

Our Instagram feed has been a welcome respite from a busy (to say the least) month. Indeed, the pictures you’ve shared with us have been pensive, serene, dazzling and even funny (thanks, Unipiper!).

Taken on my commute in from SE. #rx100 #trimet

A photo posted by Bryton Wilson (@brytonw) on

Follow @ridetrimet on Instagram »

Portland commuting #fujix70

A photo posted by Takeshi Okuno (@tkc09) on

Something so wrong about these numbers makes them so right.

A photo posted by Jason Garland Sturgill (@jgspdx) on

Just a causal afternoon ride on the Portland Trimet Max 🚊🚃🚋🚉 #Max #Portland #Trimet #casual#afternoon

A photo posted by Erin McCabe (@pumpkinberrie) on

⚡tonight⚡

A photo posted by Kody Youmans (@xo_kody) on

Portland 😍 getting little festive ✨

A photo posted by Nabina Nazar (@nabinanazar) on

As always, tag @ridetrimet and #GoByTransit to share your ride!

Brian Lum

Brian Lum

I'm TriMet's Web & Social Media Specialist. I'm here to help tell our story, and to share the interesting things I find along the way. When I'm not here, you'll find me out riding my bike and taking pictures.

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Instagram Roundup: October

Could October be the moodiest month?

Judging by the photos we were tagged in, that may well be the case. We’ve seen sudden downpours, fiery red leaves falling, spectacular sunsets and skies of every color. (Sure, we’re in for six months of darkness, but at least we’re going out in style!)

Motion

A photo posted by ANAND (@anandbc) on

Follow @ridetrimet on Instagram »

#autumn #fall #rain #leafs #leaf #glass #color #portland #trimet #bus

A photo posted by Alex Jones (@http.fantomboy.13) on

When you accidentally walk by the #OCI max while it’s riding by! 👍🏽 #ocikitchenninja #ocisugarbakers #happyfriday

A photo posted by Oregon Culinary Institute🔪 (@ocikitchenninja) on

SUPER BONUS: Portland’s favorite golden retriever rescue, Rusty Rodas, shared the #GoByTransit love.

On my way to work. #publictransportation #portland

A photo posted by RUSTY RODAS (@rustyrodas) on

As always, tag @ridetrimet and #GoByTransit to share your ride!

Brian Lum

Brian Lum

I'm TriMet's Web & Social Media Specialist. I'm here to help tell our story, and to share the interesting things I find along the way. When I'm not here, you'll find me out riding my bike and taking pictures.

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5 Tips for Commuting in the Rain

Fall is finally upon us. This means days are shorter, nights are colder and — more often that not — it’s raining. And it won’t be stopping anytime soon.

So, as we adjust to the changing seasons, here are some tips for commuting in wet weather to help hold you over until the dry days of summer return.

#1. Dress in layers.

Weather in Oregon can be unpredictable. One minute, the sun’s out. The next minute, it’s a downpour. It’s best to layer up before you head out so you’re prepared for whatever weather conditions come your way. (And yes, umbrellas are allowed!)

#2. Check trimet.org/alerts before you go.

It’s always best practice to check our Service Alerts page before you go to make sure your bus or train is not experiencing any detours or delays. You can also sign up for email updates to get service alerts that affect you delivered right to your inbox.

#3. Light up the night!

Bring a small flashlight or blinky-light with you (or use the flashlight on your smartphone) to help you see and be seen. It gets darker much earlier and stays dark later into the morning, so having a personal light on you keeps you safe and helps our operators see you better!

#4. Heads up while walking, please.

It’s so easy to be distracted by our devices, but walking while looking at your smartphone poses a safety risk for yourself and everyone else around you. When out and about, please pay attention to where you’re going, especially when crossing streets or MAX tracks. In addition to keeping your eyes off your phone, do make sure that you can see out from beneath your umbrellas and hoods!

#5. Be aware of your surroundings.

In extreme weather conditions, unforeseen incidents may happen, like a fallen tree or downed power lines. A downed line doesn’t have to spark to be dangerous. It can be dangerous even if you’re not touching it: Water, metal, tree branches, concrete or other materials touching the wire can conduct electricity to you. Please be extra safe and take extra precautions if you must travel during intense weather situations.

Jessica Ridgway

Jessica Ridgway

I'm TriMet's Web and Social Media Coordinator. I develop content for our website and social media channels. I'm a daily MAX rider and an adopted Oregonian.

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Tour Local Coffee Roasters by Transit

Last week, we asked our Facebook followers to tag a friend they’d like to get coffee with for a chance to win Barista beans and gift cards.

The response did more than reaffirm how much people love coffee. It showed how coffee plays a huge role in creating community — Portland is renown for its coffee culture, and there’s no doubt the abundance of coffee shops have helped shape nearly every neighborhood in the city.

To illustrate just how vibrant the scene is, we put together a map of local roasters — more than just cafés, these dedicated spots take coffee all the way from raw beans to brew. Conveniently, and perhaps unsurprisingly, every roaster’s café is accessible by transit. And with 47 roasters making the list (let us know if we forgot any), you’re not likely to run out of new spots to try any time soon.

Plan your trip

Brian Lum

Brian Lum

I'm TriMet's Web & Social Media Specialist. I'm here to help tell our story, and to share the interesting things I find along the way. When I'm not here, you'll find me out riding my bike and taking pictures.

More Posts

Tour the New FFTTNW Murals by Transit

If you’ve noticed a new mural along your commute, it’s likely to be from this year’s crop of FFTTNW projects (that’s short for Forest For The Trees Northwest, a non-profit dedicated to contemporary public art). These include seven stunning large-format murals and one imaginative airport installment.

Each is worth visiting, and all are easily accessible by transit — in fact, you could probably tour them in the space of an afternoon. (We’d recommend taking a little more time, though, to visit the businesses on the other side of the murals, which include a cider house, maker spaces, a gallery and restaurant.)

Here’s a sample itinerary:

1. Disjecta — Molly Bounds,  Alex Gardner and Maxwell McMaster

8371 N Interstate Ave.

A photo posted by Forest For The Trees (@ffttnw) on


Start with the soft pastel hues outside this vibrant contemporary arts center in Kenton, right off the Yellow Line (near Paul Bunyan).

2. The Make House — Adam Friedman

8371 N Interstate Ave.

A photo posted by Forest For The Trees (@ffttnw) on

One stop south on the Yellow Line brings you a short walk from Adam Friedman’s trippy vision of Mt. Hood, painted on the side of the Make House on Interstate.

3. Cider Riot — Peach Momoko and Camille Rose Garcia

807 NE Couch St.


Continuing to the Rose Quarter and connecting to Line 6 or Portland Streetcar at the convention center, make your way to the cluster of murals on the inner eastside.

4. ADX — Nina Chanel Abney and Yoshi47

417 SE 11th Ave.

A photo posted by Forest For The Trees (@ffttnw) on


You’re already smiling at this one.

5. The Redd — Zach Yarrington and David Rice

1140 SE 7th Ave.

A photo posted by Zach Yarrington (@zachumz) on


What does it say? You’ll have to go there to find out.

6. Hanoi Kitchen — Jesse Hazelip

7925 NE Glisan St.

A photo posted by Forest For The Trees (@ffttnw) on


Catch a Line 19 bus out to this Montavilla restaurant to see this inspired piece by artist and tattooist Jesse Hazelip. Can you tell where his inspiration comes from?

7. PDX Terminal A — J. Shea

7000 NE Airport Way

A photo posted by Forest For The Trees (@ffttnw) on


Finally, catch a Red Line train from Gateway TC to the final installation, located inside Portland International Airport (before security). Here, mixed media artist J. Shea has more than a mural: (literally) wiry figures are suspended mid-air, appropriately suggesting flight and movement.

Of course, there’s no wrong way to visit these public art pieces — try using the map below to plan your own journey:

Brian Lum

Brian Lum

I'm TriMet's Web & Social Media Specialist. I'm here to help tell our story, and to share the interesting things I find along the way. When I'm not here, you'll find me out riding my bike and taking pictures.

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Instagram Roundup: September

I’ll be sad to see September go. And I’m sure I’m not the only one — it’s been a beautiful month, with warm days and dramatic skies and changing leaves. The kind of scenes that make for perfect Instagram shares, basically.

But don’t just take my word for it — here are some of the standout shots you shared with us this month:

Follow @ridetrimet on Instagram »

Wife & I exploring the ways of public transpo today 🚎🚋

A photo posted by Jordan Hills 🐅 Tiger (@13hills) on

Moving still. 📸: @carhenlo

A photo posted by BILLY PHAM (@billyfam) on

I’ve always liked the inside of TriMet busses at night. #pdx #trimet #rx100

A photo posted by Bryton Wilson (@brytonw) on

#clouds #beautiful #sky #bus #max #morning #53 #trimet #beaverton

A photo posted by Ryunosuke Ikeda (@ryuike0804) on

Always a party on #trimet #seportland #ballons #publictransit #pnwonderland #watchyourstep

A photo posted by Natalie (@nattyfiggs) on

Dbl tap if you read this every weekday as “Milky Way”. #trimet

A photo posted by judy webring-reynolds (@judy_webring_reynolds) on

As always, tag @ridetrimet and #GoByTransit to share your ride!

Brian Lum

Brian Lum

I'm TriMet's Web & Social Media Specialist. I'm here to help tell our story, and to share the interesting things I find along the way. When I'm not here, you'll find me out riding my bike and taking pictures.

More Posts