Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

How We Wash MAX Trains At Night [VIDEO]

Every night, all 85 MAX trains are cleaned, washed and prepared to go into service by 4 a.m.

As supervisor Rick Taylor says, it takes a fine-tuned system and lots of training to get all this work done in such a short window of time. We’re thankful for the service workers who make it happen, night in and night out!

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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The Plan for Morrison-Yamhill

Spring is finally here and we’ll be digging in once again to make major improvements to sections of the original MAX tracks in Downtown Portland.

Like the projects we completed last year at 1st Avenue and Rose Quarter, the Morrison-Yamhill MAX Improvements project will impact service on all lines. But once they’re completed, these track and switch improvements will help us keep trains rolling smoothly and reliably.

The work will take three weeks, from April 30 through May 20. That’s a bit longer than the previous projects that took just two weeks each. The construction will temporarily alter Portland Streetcar in addition to disrupting MAX.

The heart of the project happens on SW Morrison and Yamhill streets at 11th Avenue, which was the end of the original MAX line between Portland and Gresham. This area sees it all: hundreds of trains and streetcars a day, three lanes of auto traffic, bicyclists and pedestrians.

SW 11th Avenue in the early 1980s.

Crews will replace four “turnouts” — two on Morrison Street and two on Yamhill Street. These are sections of track where rails spur off from the mainline to side tracks. Underneath the rails, crews will remove the old wooden ties that were standard at the time of original construction and replace them with concrete. New switches will go in with improved drainage to keep them clear of water and debris that can cause problems during heavy rain storms. On the Morrison side of 11th Avenue, the switches will get heaters to help keep snow and ice from building up, an especially good idea after last winter.

The original cable connecting the train signals to the track will also be replaced, and circuits that help monitor where trains are will be upgraded. These improvements will cut down on signal issues and keep trains moving.

Walking through these intersections today, you have to step carefully around broken and missing brick pavers and historic Portland Belgian block. We’ll replace those. The potholes caused by asphalt crumbling and pulling away from the rails will be repaired using a rubberized grout, which keeps the rail in place and prevents stray current as electricity from the overhead wire travels to the train and into the rail.

Down the street at 1st Avenue, crews will replace curved rail, which wears faster than straight rail. We’ll also be freshening up some signs at the closed platforms and working on our ticket machines.

The Morrison-Yamhill MAX Improvements project has been two years in the making. And since we know the three-week disruption to MAX service (and two-week disruption to Portland Streetcar) is going to be a big inconvenience, we’ve coordinated with other agencies to get all the disruptive work done at once. The Portland Bureau of Environmental Services will repair and upgrade sewers next to the tracks, Multnomah County will fix cracks under the Burnside Bridge and Portland Parks and Recreation will repair material under the Pioneer Square South MAX Station all at the same time our work is happening. We figured an intense three-week disruption is better than months of separate projects that block MAX.

We’re asking a lot from our riders during this project. We appreciate your patience and we can’t wait to debut smoother and more reliable MAX service next month.

Learn more about the Morrison-Yamhill MAX Improvements project
Sarah Touey

Sarah Touey

I’m the resident engineer for TriMet’s Maintenance of Way projects. I seek out adventure by traveling and exploring other transit systems across the country, spending time at the beach with family and friends, and continuously remodeling our house with my husband Jarrett.

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A Rare Look Inside the Operations Command Center

Dispatcher Trisha Nako Harris says it best: The crew in the Operations Command Center takes multitasking to the 10th degree.

Drivers call dispatch whenever they need help. Dispatchers, in turn, use sophisticated tools (so many screens!) and excellent judgment to coordinate the support effort.

 

Impressive, right? Now imagine what the job is like during snow and ice! Suffice it to say we’re really grateful for our hardworking dispatchers.

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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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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The 2016 Bus “Roadeo”

Day in and day out, our bus operators carefully maneuver 40-foot buses through city streets, along highways and over bridges. It’s no easy feat to drive a TriMet bus — it takes skillful coordination, patience and whole lot of wheel-turning to get through those tight corners — but for one day, our operators can put their bus driving skills to the test by competing in the annual TriMet Bus “Roadeo.”

Winners take home a trophy, and bragging rights for being a Bus Roadeo Champion!
Winners take home a trophy, and bragging rights for being a Bus Roadeo Champion!

The Bus Roadeo is a challenging obstacle course broken down into nine different sections. Each section tests different techniques, like guiding the bus through tight spaces, zig-zagging around barriers and stopping on a dime with the bus going 15 miles per hour.

Tennis Ball Test: Fit the dual rear wheels through the tennis balls without running them over.
Alley of Cones: Fit through two tight alleys without knocking over any cones.
Alley of Cones: Fit through two offset alleys without knocking over any cones.
Cone Serpentine: Weave through the cones without knocking any over!
Cone Serpentine: Weave through the cones without knocking any over!
Barrel Test: Squeeze between two rows of barrels while accelerating to 15 mph and stopping.

And it’s not only bus operators who can compete in the Roadeo. All TriMet employees have the opportunity to see what it takes to drive a bus — and get in some good laughs because we definitely knock things over!

This is the third year we’ve held the Bus Roadeo, and we definitely think we’ll do it again! It’s a great way to demonstrate the challenges our bus operators face, plus it’s fun for all the different departments to come together (and enjoy delicious food off the grill).

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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The Plan For Rose Quarter

From Sunday, August 21, to Saturday, September 3, we’re making improvements near the Rose Quarter to improve MAX reliability and make for a smoother ride.

Much like the work we completed along 1st Avenue in May, we’ll be replacing switches and improving the tracks just east of the Rose Quarter MAX Station. Switches in this area are 30 years old, so crews will replace the wooden ties (which were standard back in 1985) underneath the switches with a concrete track structure and much more durable and robust materials.

We’ll also realign the section of track that runs westbound into the Rose Quarter MAX Station. We’ll begin by removing the rails and that run into the old Trolley Barn. Then, we’ll smooth out the curve into the north platform, which will create a smoother ride into the station. This new design will help eliminate some long-term maintenance challenges and reduce wear and tear on the tracks. As part of the realignment, crews will adjust the overhead wire and relocate two existing poles.

We’ll also be updating the antiquated MAX signal system in the Rose Quarter area. Signal technology has improved dramatically since these were installed back in 1986. This will be the first time in MAX’s history that we’re upgrading the original signals — it’s kind of like rewiring part of your house. We’re most excited for this upgrade because it will decrease the chances of a signal malfunction, which causes train delays.

All of these much-needed renovations are to improve MAX reliability and keep trains running on time, but this work will disrupt regular MAX service for two weeks as we’ll have to shut down service along Holladay Street between the Rose Quarter and the Lloyd Center/NE 11th Ave MAX Station.

We know this two-week disruption will be a hassle, but it’s all for a good cause — to create a better and smoother ride for you.

Learn more about this MAX disruption and how your trips will be affected

Sarah Touey

Sarah Touey

I’m the resident engineer for TriMet’s Maintenance of Way projects. I seek out adventure by traveling and exploring other transit systems across the country, spending time at the beach with family and friends, and continuously remodeling our house with my husband Jarrett.

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Minimizing Heat Delays on MAX

Last year, we shared a bit about why our trains slow down when it heats up — basically, temperatures above 90 degrees bring the possibility of rails expanding and kinking, or overhead wires sagging.

We know how it feels to slow down in extreme heat.
We know how it feels to slow down in extreme heat.

Before we go any further, we should answer a common question: Why didn’t we build track that can withstand higher temperatures? Surely, places like Phoenix don’t have this problem — right?

It’s true. Hotter places like Phoenix, which experience many 90+ degree days, don’t have this problem. But they do have trouble at the other end of the spectrum, when it’s cold out. This is because transit agencies build systems to work within the temperature range of their region, with the rails and overhead wire resting (neither expanded nor contracted) at the average temperature. For reference, the average temperature here is about 55 degrees, compared to 75 degrees in Phoenix.

Nobody wants a slower trip in extreme heat. You’ve got places to be, and we’re trying to stick to a schedule. That’s why we’re looking into ways to speed trains up when it’s hot out — we’ve already come across a simple solution that seems to work: track anchors. These were initially installed along the new Orange Line track for other reasons, but later we noticed that the rail here didn’t seem to affected by high temperatures.

So last spring, crews installed similar anchors to the rail ties of a segment of Red Line track that we knew to be especially prone to sun kinks. These have kept the rail in place, even on warm days (when rail temperatures can approach 20 to 30 degrees hotter than the air temperature). This simple step, which didn’t even require disrupting service, saved approximately 25 to 30 minutes of time throughout each service day, adding back over 150 hours of increased on-time performance over the course of a year.

There’s also the issue of overhead wire sagging in the heat and potentially damaging the pantograph (the arm that connects MAX to the wire) if it drops far enough. So we’re looking into ways to give the counterweights — which keep the wire taut — more room to move.

This summer has been curiously mild, but we’ll use the hot days ahead to gather more data on how these potential solutions hold up in real life. Eventually, when we’re confident that they’re worth the investment, we’ll implement these upgrades on a wider scale. And we’ll be able to keep moving, right through the heat.

Related:

Why Our Trains Slow Down When It Heats Up

Monitoring MAX On-Time Performance

MAX System Reliability Improvements

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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