Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

Our response to The Oregonian “TriMet overtime” article

Shelly Lomax is TriMet’s Executive Director of Operations.

The Oregonian has an article they call “TriMet overtime: ‘Exhaustion has become part of the culture’ at transit agency.” We wanted to take this opportunity to provide some further information and to assure you that we have a safe system that you can trust.

The story stems from when a MAX train hit a bumping post at the Expo Center in 2011 and there was speculation that the operator may have fallen asleep. This was an extremely rare and unfortunate event for TriMet—but we followed up with the appropriate investigation and discipline regarding this incident.

Since then, The Oregonian has asked for years of complaints against operators, hours of service (HOS), pay records and collision data to determine if there is a pattern of this type of behavior.

We have a few bus operators who choose to work a lot of overtime, and at times taking just a few hours off between service days. While this is rare it complies with our HOS policy. We are vigilant when it comes to improving safety because we can always do better, and we will.

Every day we do a lot to ensure a safe operation:

  • Our operators are trained professionals who all receive annual safety training and refresher training when appropriate.
  • We comply with the Oregon Department of Transportation’s requirement that we have an HOS policy approved by ODOT for our rail operators and have applied a similar policy to our bus operators. The HOS policy defines a service day differently between bus and rail. As we negotiate the next contract, we hope to work with the ATU to improve the hours of service policy and further strengthen our support of safe operations.
  • Our negotiated HOS policy limits the number of hours a person can work in a week and the number of consecutive days a person can work; it also requires a period of rest within the service day. Additionally, operators have the ability to pass up work or request later work under certain circumstances so they can get the rest they need.
  • If an operator is feeling tired, we have safety measures in place. If we get a complaint about unsafe driving or concern over a sleepy operator, we perform a field fit-for-duty check on the operator.

Bus and MAX operators come to work each day prepared to deliver safe and reliable transportation for our customers and our community. It is a responsibility every operator, and in fact, every Operations employee, takes very seriously.

Safety is our core value. There is no greater priority. We can always improve our safety efforts and will continue to do so—hand in hand with our entire Operations Division, Safety and Security Division and the ATU.

Shelly Lomax

I’m TriMet’s Executive Director of Transportation. I started at TriMet as a bus operator in 1987. I have direct responsibility for the Transportation Division, which includes all bus, MAX, WES and LIFT operations. I work every day to keep TriMet service safe, dependable and friendly.

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Behind the scenes: filming TNT’s “Leverage” on TriMet

Roberta Altstadt is TriMet’s public information officer.

How do you transform the TriMet MAX system into a subway system? Well, it takes a lot of people and equipment, 80+ hours and special effects.

Screenshot: behind-the-scenes video of "Leverage" on TriMet
Watch behind-the-scenes video of “Leverage” on TriMet.

When a producer with the television show “Leverage” first approached me to do some filming on the MAX system, I had no idea what we were in for. The TNT show, which is filmed and set in Portland, was actually doing an episode where some of the characters were visiting Washington, D.C. (The episode is called “The Rundown Job.”) That meant the MAX system—which mainly runs above ground and is powered using overhead wires—needed to double as the underground, rail-powered subway system.

Aldis Hodge and Christian Kane
Aldis Hodge and Christian Kane in Robertson Tunnel. See more behind-the-scenes photos for “Leverage” filming on TriMet.
TM & © Turner Network Television. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Erik Heinla.

The only real underground stretch of the MAX system is the Robertson Tunnel. With MAX trains running through the tunnel 20 hours or more a day, we could only give the “Leverage” crew a four-hour window in the middle of the night. Either they would need to shoot overnight for several days or we needed a plan B. That ended up being a maintenance bay in TriMet’s Ruby Junction Rail Operations Center.

See behind-the-scenes photos of “Leverage” filming on TriMet

The week of filming began with setup—hours and hours, days and days of it. Crews descended on our Ruby Junction facility in Gresham beginning on Tuesday. Each crew had a specialty. There was the electrical crew, the lighting crew, the audio crew, the rigging crew and the camera crew. Wave after wave came into the light rail maintenance bay with all their equipment and rigging. Green screens went up on the walls and tarps over the skylights to turn this room into a faux tunnel. The setup took several days and about 30 hours.

Beth Riesgraf and Director Dean Devlin
Beth Riesgraf receiving direction from Dean Devlin. See more behind-the-scenes photos for “Leverage” filming on TriMet.
TM & © Turner Network Television. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Erik Heinla.

Over in Southwest Portland, the crews started showing up at TriMet’s Washington Park MAX station across from the Oregon Zoo about 6 a.m. on Thursday. They had to prep the area up top for a few scenes and 260 feet down on the platform, they had to transform Portland into D.C. TriMet and Portland-area signs and maps were covered with D.C. subway signs and D.C.-area maps. At one point I went down to check on things and found a man with his young son and a furrowed brow analyzing a map with stops like Potomac Ave. and Anacostia on it. “Sorry sir, we’re in Portland and that’s a map of D.C.” I explained. “I thought things looked a little off,” he replied.

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About 4 p.m., the filming up top began. Take after take of the same action. Then about 5 p.m. it was time to head back down to the platform. Some 75 crew members and actors were joined by about 200 extras. This posed some challenges since the MAX was still in service. I kept trying to divert riders to one section of the platform only to be told, “I’m an extra here for ‘Leverage.’” Wow, their extras really did look like TriMet commuters. The real riders passing through on the trains had to be surprised when they saw the packed platform and D.C. signs.

Ruby Junction with green screen
Ruby Junction with the green screen. See more behind-the-scenes photos for “Leverage” filming on TriMet.

At midnight, the filming began on the platform and then the last train rolled through westbound about 12:40 a.m. and the action began in earnest. The production had rented two MAX trains—one for the eastbound side and one for the westbound. They needed the timing of one train arriving on one side of the platform while the train on the other side was pulling away. With all the rehearsal that was done, crews were able to get those shots pretty quick and then it was time to climb down on the tracks and walk into the tunnel for more filming. It’s cold and dirty in there. Setup had to be quick since there was no way to have equipment staged ahead of time while the MAX trains were still running. Still, things went relatively “fast”. The filming finished earlier than planned and we walked out of the tunnel back to the platform about 4:30 a.m., a half hour before the first train of the day rolled through. Remember though, some of us had been there since 6 a.m.

Cast and crew
Cast and crew of “Leverage” on the Washington Park platform. See more behind-the-scenes photos for “Leverage” filming on TriMet.
TM & © Turner Network Television. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved. Photographer: Erik Heinla.

For me, it was home for a quick nap because by 3:30 p.m. I was at Ruby Junction in Gresham for the next night of filming. “Leverage” crews had been doing more setup for most of the day already. We moved the MAX train into the building. Many of us piled in along with cameras and monitors and the filming began. It was wild being inside at one end of the train with the action going on at the other end. Then came take after take. Actors talking with directors; producers talking with directors; actors talking with producers. Adjustments were made, coffee was drank, makeup reapplied and more filming. By 8 a.m., I was wondering out loud how much longer this could possibly go on. “That’s a wrap,” came about 8:45 a.m. Saturday morning.

Learn more about “Leverage” and when you can watch it

“The Rundown Job” aired nearly three months later. I was interested to see how they pieced the different scenes shot at different locations together. In all, the footage that took some 80+ hours of setup and filming whittled down to about six minutes and 15 seconds of the episode. In the end, the MAX system made its debut as a subway, I learned a lot about Hollywood-style filming and I got a pretty cool souvenir: a “D.C. subway” system map in TriMet colors.

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P.S. If you get a chance to watch the episode on rerun, take a hard look at the MAX train as it rolls into the tunnel. What’s missing? (Overhead wires)

The production company for “Leverage” reimbursed TriMet for all costs including staff time and use of TriMet facilities.

Roberta Altstadt

Roberta Altstadt

I’m TriMet’s public information officer. I communicate with the news media on all TriMet-related topics. When I’m not busy working, I like learning new skills, gardening, and going for walks with my sweet three-legged dog, Ernie.

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Solar energy project near PSU now online

 

Over the last few months, you may have seen crews putting the finishing touches on the large solar-panel structure at the MAX turnaround near Portland State University (also clearly visible from I-405). Last week, we flipped the switch, and we’re happy to report it is up and running!

The new clean-energy system has 253 solar panels that will generate more than 64,000 kilowatt hours of electricity and shave nearly $5,000 off of our power bill each year. Plus, it serves as an eye-catching landmark for the south end of Downtown. It’s the largest solar project in Downtown, and the first on a MAX line.

WATCH: Online dashboard shows how much solar energy is being generated

Our overall contribution to the project was just $4,702, so our investment will be recouped within the first year of the system’s operation.

We sought and received a grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to build the $1.2 million steel structure surrounding the utility buildings at the MAX turnaround.

The design of the solar array, and other environmentally friendly features, helped the project win approval from the City of Portland’s planning and sustainability commission. In particular, the project was praised for obscuring views of the pre-fabricated utility buildings.

Incentives and tax credits will reduce the $366,000 cost of installing the panels by more than 70 percent. The installation will receive an $85,591 incentive from Energy Trust of Oregon and a $42,795 grant from PGE’s Clean Wind fund. The project is also pre-certified by the Oregon Department of Energy to receive a Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC). Over the next few months, we will identify a business “passthrough partner” willing to take the tax credit, spread over five years, in exchange for a $134,765 payment to us.

The solar panels were manufactured by SolarWorld in Hillsboro and installed by REC Solar.

WATCH: Online dashboard shows how much solar energy is being generated

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John Fall

I help TriMet communicate about the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project by coordinating the project website and managing project social media (in addition to general writing and copyediting). I’m also a mean cook who likes to improvise recipes—ask me for one the next time you see me on the 8-Jackson Park/NE 15th.

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The right place at the right time: Operator Richard Silverman rescues toddler in traffic

Operator Richard Silverman
On Tuesday, TriMet Operator Richard Silverman was driving along 82nd Avenue when “a little pink thing” dashed across the lane to his right. Photo courtesy Kate Mather/The Oregonian

Somewhere in NE Portland’s Sumner neighborhood this Thanksgiving, there’s a mother who’s grateful that a bus driver was in the right place at the right time.

In the thick of Tuesday morning’s record-setting rainstorm, Operator Richard Silverman was driving his Line 72 north on NE 82nd Ave., not far from the airport. As he prepared to make a left turn on to NE Killingsworth St., “a little pink thing” dashed across the lane to his right. He stopped the bus and saw a little girl in pink pajamas and rain boots toddling across the busy street in the blinding rain, right toward his bus.

Richard stopped the bus, positioned it at an angle to block traffic in both northbound lanes, and contacted Dispatch. The bus was about half full; one of the customers got off and retrieved the girl, who looked to be about two years old. The police arrived within minutes, with the mother—who had also called 911—on their heels. Richard says the little girl was drenched but calm, “not saying anything, just busy looking at everybody looking at her.”

Sobbing, the mother told Richard that the first floor of their apartment was flooding, and that the little girl must have slipped away in the confusion as the family relocated upstairs. After interviewing the mother, the police left; mother and daughter went home; and Richard and his riders resumed their trip toward Swan Island.

In December, Richard Silverman will begin his 15th year as a TriMet operator. Before TriMet, he drove trucks and taxis and was a steelworker—“Whatever would help me feed my family and raise my kids.” As a bus driver, Richard’s seen a lot, but rescuing a toddler from traffic? “That’s a first for me,” he says. “I’m just glad it had a happy ending.”

Jessica Bucciarelli

I work in internal communication at TriMet, which means I help employees stay in touch with what the agency’s doing and get the information they need to do their jobs. Sometimes I’m sitting at a computer writing a newsletter, other times I’m out at a bus stop at the crack of dawn with my notebook and camera. I grew up riding TriMet, and today I enjoy having a “behind the scenes” view of the service I use just about every day.

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OMSI exhibit focuses on Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Bridge and Willamette River

Did you know construction is under way on the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Bridge across the Willamette River between South Waterfront and OMSI?

It’s the first bridge to be built in Portland in over 40 years, so we want to keep everyone up-to-speed on how it’s going and what the bridge means for Portland and the river.

That’s why we’ve partnered with OMSI (and several exhibit sponsors) to create interactive kiosks featuring fun videos about the river’s role as important habitat for many animals, and about the decisions made to ensure the right bridge design was picked for the location and the project.

Be sure to stop by the kiosks on your next OMSI visit! And to learn more about the bridge and the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project, visit trimet.org/pm.

John Fall

I help TriMet communicate about the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project by coordinating the project website and managing project social media (in addition to general writing and copyediting). I’m also a mean cook who likes to improvise recipes—ask me for one the next time you see me on the 8-Jackson Park/NE 15th.

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Mike Crebs: Big impact on a Little Brother

Transit Police Commander Mike Crebs

When Transit Police Commander Mike Crebs walks into Vestal Elementary School on 82nd Avenue, smiling and sporting a black uniform and badge, the students tend to see him as a kind of celebrity.

Mike spends his lunch hour on Fridays at the school as part of the Big Brothers program, where he sits and talks with his high-energy “Little” and plays kickball and foursquare. Mike’s been a Big Brother for four years, and is in his second year with his Little Brother, Norman.

Mike has worked with youth since his days on the force in Salt Lake City as a school resource officer, and then taught here as part of the GREAT (Gang Resistance Education and Training) program, in which officers take a proactive role in preventing crime. He also sits on the Board of Governors for the Boys and Girls Club.

Mike says this experience has helped him in his job running the Transit Police Division, a partnership of 17 police agencies working together to keep riders safe. Mike oversees 58 officers in four offices in a three-county area. Youth make up 17 percent of all rides on TriMet’s system, and Mike acknowledges that much of the disruptions on the system are in part caused by youth.

“Kids have so much energy. Adults, when they’re on the bus, they just want to read. But a teenager is a little more boisterous.”

“Do we blame the kid?” he asks. “I don’t think so.” But there’s a line he draws between a kid just being a kid and when to intervene. According to Mike, that intervention works best before it’s ever needed, whether it’s by being a Big Brother, a commander or just a member of the community.

For Mike, being a Big Brother is an opportunity to provide “one more asset for a young person—whether that be a parent, coach, teacher or neighbor—that one person who might strike a chord.”

WEIGH IN ON FACEBOOK: Have you been a “Big,” or helped youth by volunteering or mentoring?

How Bus Operator A.K. Rucker is helping to keep kids out of gangs

Bus Operator A.K. Rucker

As a 40-foot bus pulls over at SE Powell Boulevard and 42nd Avenue, more than a dozen youth in bright yellow T-shirts hop off the bus and run, boot-camp style, to the nearby bus shelters and sidewalks. With gloves on and garbage bags in tow, the crew fans out, picking up trash, filling their bags, and then heading back to the bus.

Behind this well-oiled machine is A.K. Rucker, who started TriMet’s “First Step” program 13 years ago. The First Step program is an intensive 10-week jobs program where at-risk youth, ages 14 to 18, get the opportunity to have a summer job and learn responsibility and the value of hard work. A TriMet bus operator for 30 years, A.K. selects his bus routes based on areas where he knows he can reach youth and encourage them to apply for First Step.

“TriMet wanted to get involved in North and Northeast Portland because of the gangs,” he says, recalling a time when Portland gang activity centered in that area. “There was a lot of vandalism on the system and in the community. I was working with youth at the Boys and Girls Club, and some of the kids were upset that they couldn’t get jobs.”

“I’ve had kids come back and say, ‘I never thought I’d go to college.’ But they come here and realize they can go to college and do something with their lives.”

The idea for First Step came to A.K. in the spring of 1998, and TriMet was able to launch the program that same summer.

Cleaning bus shelters and sidewalks may seem like grunt work, but the youth approach it with an energy and pride that can point them in a positive direction for the rest of their lives. Sometimes past participants driving past will spot the crew, pull over on the side of the road and tell the kids that if they can make it through this, it’ll pay off.

For Rucker, the program is about showing the kids the community, and showing them another option other than gangs.