Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

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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Speeding up MAX reliability improvements

Throughout TriMet, we have been focused on improving MAX on-time performance (OTP) — our measure of reliable service — and doing it safely. Back in January, I shared our plans to improve. We’ve made some progress, and we hope it’s making a difference in your ride. MAX OTP improved from 75 percent last November to an average of just above 85 percent in June. We still have a ways to go, but we are on track and remain dedicated to achieving our long term goal of 90 percent.

rq (4 of 8)

The MAX system is very complex. Over the course of a day, it is in operation for about 22½ hours and provides more than 120,000 trips. It has many moving parts that include 145 vehicles, more than 130 miles of track and overhead wire, more than 250 track switches and nearly 200 rail operators. (And that doesn’t include the many mechanics, cleaners, rail controllers, yard workers, engineers, field operations staff and others who keep our system running safely every day.) There are many events that can cause delays to the system — here’s an update on how we are addressing some of them.

Starting on time, staying on time

To get you where you need to go on time, our trains need to start their day on time. We have improved how we track which trains are ready for service, along with how that is communicated between our maintenance and operations departments. Using the new web-based system speeds up that communication and gives us more time to focus on getting vehicles ready for service safely.

rq (2 of 8)

Our managers, operators and maintenance teams also are working to ensure that our maintenance and operational checks are completed safely and in a timely manner, so our trains depart from the rail yard on schedule. But that’s just the beginning. To stay on time, we’re adding a portable data display to trains that will provide our operators with the current time and the time their train is scheduled to be at the next few stops. These mobile tablets are like the mobile data terminals on our buses that provide operators with key information, such as the time points for where they should be on their routes. I’d like to note that these are important tools to help our rail operators do their jobs, and operators will be instructed on how to use them while safely operating the train.

Uncovering common culprits

We’ve struggled with debris building up in switches, rail joint and track boxes on the Steel Bridge. This has given false indications that the track way on the bridge is occupied when it is not, leading to some significant train delays. The area of issue was in a section of the embedded track where all the MAX lines converge on the west end of the bridge. Crews have now removed the concrete around the track, which has improved drainage and gives our staff better access to keeping debris out of that equipment and also trouble-shooting any electrical issues which can rise from time to time.

Improving the tracks

Our maintenance of way department has been hard at work tackling several track projects. Some have temporarily disrupted MAX service; some have not. On the Red Line, near the Mt Hood Ave Station, crews worked overnight during non-service hours several days in a row last spring, installing anchors to the rail ties. In extreme heat, rails — which are made of steel — can expand and kink, requiring trains to run slower through the area. The new rail ties keep the rail in place. This summer we have experienced several warm days above 80 degrees, where rail temperatures can approach 20 to 30 degrees hotter than the ambient temperatures — so far we have not had any rail movement. This saves approximately 25 to 30 minutes of time throughout each service day, adding back over 150 hours of increased on-time performance over a one-year period.

rq (6 of 8)

During our 1st Avenue MAX Improvements project in May, crews installed new switches and rail and improved the track bed. This disrupted MAX service on 1st Avenue for two weeks, but it has paid off with the removal of slow orders along that stretch of rail.

Now we have another big project approaching fast: From Aug. 21 through Sept. 3, the Rose Quarter MAX Improvements project will replace switches just east of the Rose Quarter MAX Station and redesign the trackway, which will create a smoother ride. We will also upgrade the signal system, which will keep trains running on schedule into and out of the station. Like the work on 1st Avenue, this will require a major disruption to MAX service. Once again, we are asking for your help by adjusting trips to avoid the rush hours, using bus service or other transportation options. Learn more at trimet.org/rosequarter

Thank you for your patience as we continue our work to increase MAX on-time performance. We have much more to do, but we appreciate you staying with us as we keep MAX moving.

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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Bus Operator of the Year Alex Ohly’s laid-back approach works

OOY 2016 - alex

Alex Ohly loves to tinker. If it involves an engine, even better. After all, he does own six 1980s-era Volvos.

When he moved to Oregon in 1990, he sought machinist jobs after a career making eye-surgery instruments in St. Louis. One big problem: the United States was mired in an economic recession. Also, pay was low for the work, and most of these positions didn’t offer employer-sponsored insurance plans.

However, he loved to drive and saw TriMet had a need for bus operators.

“I took it as a temporary job. I really just needed insurance. As it turned out, I really liked it. It’s like I’ve been in-between jobs for 26 years,” laughs Ohly.

Fortunately, the 1990 recession quickly passed, and Ohly’s career stability at TrIMet helped him weather the most recent economic downturn. How? Well, he’s good at what he does. For the past 21 years, he’s driven safely, which has earned him a National Safe Driving Award each year (no preventable accidents during that time). And he shows up — he had nine straight years of perfect attendance.

It’s about the people

His approach to his profession is simple.

“You have to try to understand people,” says Ohly, whose workday typically begins at 6 a.m. and ends at 3:15 p.m. “A lot of times, people are upset for whatever reason when they get on the bus. If you’re kind to them, it goes away.”

Alex Ohly_3

“When operating a bus, I never sacrifice safety or people’s comfort. Just go smooth and take it easy. Go with the flow.”

His approach has culminated into being our newest Bus Operator of the Year, an award he says blew him away when his name was announced in front of his peers.

He’s also a Master Operator, which is an honor given to operators who earn at least 15 Superior Performance Awards, earned by working at least 1,960 hours with no preventable accidents, warnings, or reprimands.

Life away from TriMet

When he’s not driving his usual Line 48-Cornell or Line 88-Hart/198th, you’ll likely find Ohly and his wife relaxing at their Lake Oswego home. They’ve grown roots, including, at one time, a vegetable garden.

“Unfortunately, we shared the garden with raccoons, so that didn’t work too well,” he says.

Now he spends much of his free time either with his grandson or thinking about fly fishing. He owns quite a few fly rods, but instead of catching fish, he works on the “art of casting” in his large backyard. No question, when the time comes to catch real fish, Ohly will be ready.

Interested in driving a TriMet bus? We’re hiring bus operators! Consider a career with TriMet and see where it takes you.

Andrew Longeteig

Andrew Longeteig

I’m TriMet’s Communications Coordinator. I share what’s happening at the agency with the media and general public. When I’m not working, I’ll either be watching the Blazers or at a rock concert.

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Renewing our bus fleet

If you ride often, you know we have some old buses. The kind that make you feel like you’ve time-traveled to 1995, when multi-colored cloth patterns were kinda cool, the Blazers played in Memorial Coliseum and Portland’s own Everclear released “Santa Monica” to the world.

That era is fading away, however, as we’ve put 326 new buses on the road the past four years. All of our new buses have amenities such as vinyl seats, easy-to-read LED signs, better interior and exterior lighting and onboard GPS (which improves the accuracy of our TransitTracker) — features lacking in some of our older buses. And our entire active fleet now has essentials like air conditioning and low floors for easy boarding. (We’ll keep some of the older buses as backup.)

This past February, the first batch of 77 new diesel-powered buses (the 3500 series) took to the streets. By the end of the month, they’ll all be in service.

Our buses are getting more efficient in fuel consumption and emissions, led by eight hybrid buses, four of which have all-electric capabilities. We’ve also tested some fully electric buses, technology that’s quickly advancing and certainly something we’re considering for the future.

And we’re not finished. (Not even close.)

We’re getting 151 new buses in the next three years, which will help keep the average age of our fleet to an industry-standard eight years. This way, your next ride is less likely to remind you of the time before flip phones.

Learn more about the newest buses in our fleet

Andrew Longeteig

Andrew Longeteig

I’m TriMet’s Communications Coordinator. I share what’s happening at the agency with the media and general public. When I’m not working, I’ll either be watching the Blazers or at a rock concert.

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