All posts by Dave Sauter

I’m a Project Manager for TriMet’s Capital Projects & Construction Division, working on track improvements on the MAX system along with other projects. I regularly ride public transportation — the Line 96 bus and the MAX Blue and Orange lines — so I personally know the value of transit that’s reliable and enjoyable. I was born and raised in Portland. My wife and I and our five kids frequently visit my parents who still live in the house where I grew up.”

The Plan for This Fall’s Hillsboro MAX Improvements

Our next MAX improvement project kicks off today in Hillsboro, where we’re replacing worn-out rails and tackling other important projects that will give you a smoother ride and fewer delays.

The entire project will take seven weeks to complete. Thanks to careful planning and a lot of prep work over the past year, we’ll only need to disrupt MAX service between Hatfield Government Center Station and Fair Complex/Hillsboro Airport for two weeks in October.

During this time — from Saturday, October 13, through Saturday, October 27 — MAX Blue Line will be replaced by shuttle buses between those stations. We’re closing MAX Blue Line all the way to Fair Complex because that’s the next place on the line where trains can switch between the two tracks, which is an important safety requirement.

This project will focus on a nearly two block long stretch of the MAX Blue Line starting at SW Adams Avenue and E Main Street and heading east on SW Washington Street to S 1st Avenue. The rails in this stretch have undergone a lot of wear and stress since the Blue Line opened in 1998 and are at the end of their lifespan.

Despite being made of hard steel, trains wear rails down over time. This wear is more pronounced on tight bends, like the one between Washington and Adams. Ever hear trains squealing as they round a bend? That’s the sound of a train scraping against the rails, wearing them down.

If you were to look at a cross section of a rail, you’d see it’s “Ι” shaped. Over time the weight of trains wears down the top of the rails and bends them out of shape. Running trains over worn rails results in a rough, bouncy ride. If not corrected, running trains over worn rails can lead to an even-faster rate of wear and — eventually — a broken rail.  

We can grind the rails back into shape, but after enough wear, there isn’t anything left to grind and the rails need to be replaced. That’s where we’re at now. Twenty to twenty-five years might not seem like a long lifetime, but it’s typical for how much we use our rails.

The rails on this section of the Blue Line run down the middle of a street and are embedded in concrete. This means we have to rip up the entire track bed to get them out. While this is a lot of work, it also gives us the opportunity to do some other important work that will help improve the reliability of the entire Blue Line.

Switch and rails near Hatfield Station

We’re going to replace five switches — the machines that control which track trains can run on. These five switches are also nearing the end of the lifespans. Switches are sensitive to snow and cold weather, so four of them currently have heating elements to help keep them warm when temperatures drop. When we swap out these switches, we’ll install newer versions for all that have more-reliable heating technology. This will help us avoid issues no matter what the weather.

We’ll also be doing some important electrical work. The wires that power the signals can wear out, so we’ll be testing those and replacing them where necessary. In addition, one of the cables that provides electricity to the overhead wires that powers MAX needs to be replaced. This should help reduce the possibility of delays on MAX Blue Line.

We’re going to give the four closed MAX stations — Hatfield Government Center, HIllsboro Central, Tuality Hospital/SE 8th Ave and Washington/SE 12th Ave — a thorough cleaning and we’ll perform any necessary maintenance. After more than 20 years of heavy use, they could use a little TLC.

We’re also going to replace the tactile pavers — those bumps on the ground that warn you that you’re at the edge of the boarding platform. The current pavers are secured with grout, which has not held up well in our wet environment. They’ll be replaced by more reliable modular system that will last longer and require far less maintenance.

Finally, we’ll be laying some groundwork for future projects that will help us avoid another disruption.

Crossover approaching Hatfield Station

When we put the rails back in, we’re going to anchor them to the concrete in a way that’s more durable and faster to install, in order to minimize the time MAX Blue Line is disrupted.

At times, this work will be loud. This will especially be true the first three days of the project when we’re ripping out the old rails. Later, there will be noise from generators when we’re welding the new rails together.

There will be some road and sidewalk closures during this project. For the duration of the project, Washington will be closed for eastbound car traffic from Adams to 1st. During the two week disruption — October 13 to October 27 — both directions of Washington will be closed to cars from Adams to 1st.  Additionally, the sidewalk on the north side of Washington will be closed the entire project.

We’ll be working long hours to wrap up this work quickly so we can get trains running again. During the disruption, we’ll be on-site from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. But the end result — a safe, reliable and comfortable ride for the next 20+ years — will be worth it.

Get the details on the shuttle bus service that will replace MAX Blue Line between Hatfield Government Center and Fair Complex.

Dave Sauter

Dave Sauter

I’m a Project Manager for TriMet’s Capital Projects & Construction Division, working on track improvements on the MAX system along with other projects. I regularly ride public transportation — the Line 96 bus and the MAX Blue and Orange lines — so I personally know the value of transit that’s reliable and enjoyable. I was born and raised in Portland. My wife and I and our five kids frequently visit my parents who still live in the house where I grew up.”

More Posts

The Plan for Providence Park

We’re about to kick off another MAX improvement project, but this one will be a bit different than last year’s lengthy Morrison–Yamhill MAX work. While the end result will be similar — a smoother ride and system upgrades to help keep trains running on time — the Providence Park work will be shorter and will have less impact on MAX service.

This project will only disrupt MAX Blue and Red lines from Sunday, May 6, through Friday, May 11. Still, with fewer trains running on the west side and on the Blue Line, riders should plan ahead: leave extra time for your commute, avoid rush hour commuting (if you can) and use TriMet bus service or other transportation. We’ve shared all you need to know about getting through the closure, including where to catch shuttle buses, on our Providence Park MAX Improvements page.

The work will be done on SW 18th Avenue, right in front of the Providence Park stadium. This work is unrelated to the stadium expansion construction. Previous MAX improvement projects focused on removing the wooden ties used in MAX construction during the early 1980s and replacing them with longer-lasting materials. There are no wooden ties underneath the 18th Avenue tracks, but there is a need for improvement.

This section of track on SW 18th Ave will be replaced.

Ever notice how MAX sways side-to-side in the Providence Park area? That’s because when the rails were installed in the early 1990s, they were attached to concrete blocks under the roadway with spring-clips, insulated plates and bolts, with asphalt filled in between the rails. Over time this asphalt has broken down, and the result is that side-to-side movement. It’s not just a rider comfort issue – the swaying movement can cause mechanical issues with our trains.

For this project we’ll be removing the existing rails and replacing them with new rails fitted into pre-formed rubber jackets. Then concrete and a special type of grout, which are more durable than asphalt, will be filled in between the rails. This all will hold the rails in place better.

The old and degraded asphalt around the rail will be replaced with concrete and grout.

Crews will also replace outdated switch machines and improve the drainage underneath them. Right now debris gets clogged in the switches, which requires workers to clear out. We can prevent that from happening by redesigning the storm water collectors and increasing the size of the drainage pipes underneath leading leading to the storm/sewer system.

We know service disruptions can be frustrating, so we thank you for your patience while we make MAX better and more reliable!

Learn more about the service adjustments and how to navigate around the disruption.

Dave Sauter

Dave Sauter

I’m a Project Manager for TriMet’s Capital Projects & Construction Division, working on track improvements on the MAX system along with other projects. I regularly ride public transportation — the Line 96 bus and the MAX Blue and Orange lines — so I personally know the value of transit that’s reliable and enjoyable. I was born and raised in Portland. My wife and I and our five kids frequently visit my parents who still live in the house where I grew up.”

More Posts