Making MAX better will take work, time and patience

The oldest section of the MAX Light Rail system has been providing service to TriMet riders for 30 years — and it’s showing its age. So we’re tackling important necessary updates and improvements that will create better — and more reliable — service.

Improving on-time performance

In the past few years, riders have seen MAX delays and disruptions climb. Some of those delays are because of mechanical issues with sections of track called switches, problems with the electronics that operate signals and other complications with elements of the MAX system. As part of our concentrated efforts to improve MAX on-time performance, we will be replacing and upgrading some trackway materials and elements. In addition to making the system more reliable, many of the improvements will allow us to remove precautionary orders where trains run slower in specific areas.

A system well traveled

Before we take a look forward, let’s take a look back. The first section of the MAX system opened on September 5, 1986. Since then:

  • 666.4 million trips have been taken on MAX
  • 73.9 million miles have been traveled by MAX
  • 367,000 miles, on average, are traveled each month by all MAX trains combined
  • 13,000 miles, on average, are traveled each weekday by all MAX trains combined

It is a system well traveled and now it’s time for targeted major replacements and upgrades.

max-improvement-slide (5 of 7)

Taking MAX into the future

The MAX system is made up of track, switches, overhead catenary (power wire) system, traction power substations, signals and communication systems. Upcoming replacements and upgrades will touch all of them. With MAX trains running about 22 ½ hours a day, it is not possible to do all the work necessary in 1½-hour segments. So our focus is to be strategic and lessen the affect on our riders as much as possible. But the projects will affect you and require your patience, understanding and involvement, possibly even altering how and when you ride. The improvements will lead to MAX disruptions — some service impacts may be a day, others a few weeks in duration.

Here’s a look at some of the major work being planned to make MAX better:

1st Ave MAX Improvements (May 8–21, 2016)

The 1st Ave MAX improvements combine three projects into one. Crews will replace switches — sections of track that allow trains to move from one set of tracks to another — on 1st Avenue near SW Morrison and near NW Couch. They’ll replace wooden ties and other elements under and next to those tracks with updated, longer-lasting materials. At the same time, crews will replace rail in the Skidmore Fountain area. Rails wear over time and this section along 1st Avenue is part of the original MAX alignment in use for three decades. The construction will make it necessary to adjust MAX service, including reducing the number of trains running on the system. We’ll be talking more in the coming weeks about how this will affect your MAX trips during the project.

Rose Quarter TC Improvements (Aug. 21–Sept. 3, 2016)

Later this year, work moves to another of the oldest sections of the MAX system — the Rose Quarter Transit Center area. We’ll be replacing switches as well as realigning the track just east of the transit center, which will require moving poles that hold up the overhead power wire and replacing the signal system, among other work. As with the 1st Ave MAX Improvements, MAX service will need to be adjusted during this project.

SW 11th Ave/Steel Bridge Improvements (2017)

Coming in 2017, we expect two more big projects. During one, crews will replace switches, install new rail and reconstruct the track bed at SW 11th Avenue in Downtown Portland, where the original MAX alignment ended. In a separate project, we expect to begin making improvements to switches, signals and the track across the Steel Bridge.

There are other projects in the works, such as:

  • A four-year replacement of overhead power contact wire from Cleveland Ave in Gresham to Lloyd Center.
  • Upgrade and repair platform areas at Gresham City Hall and Washington Park stations.
  • A multi-year effort to design and upgrade the oldest elevators on the MAX system.

We have an aging system and we have work to do to take MAX into the future. It won’t be easy and we’ll be asking for your patience and understanding during the projects, but the projects will improve the system and your ride.

What we’ve already accomplished

Our Maintenance of Way crews are always busy performing maintenance and improvement projects. Here’s a few recent projects completed:

Doug Kelsey

Doug Kelsey

As chief operating officer, I oversee our transportation, maintenance and information technology divisions. Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with family and being active outdoors, especially cycling. I’m a huge basketball fan, and I’m proud to be a co-founder of one of Canada’s largest high school tournaments.

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