Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

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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How It Works: Tilikum Crossing Art Lights

By now you’ve seen how Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People, lights up the night — but how exactly do those lights work?

There are 178 LED lights aesthetically placed on 40 bridge cables, the four transmission towers above and below the deck, and on the Sonic Dish artwork along the Eastside Esplanade and future Willamette Greenway at the ends of the bridge.

Monitors from the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, located in the water near the Morrison Bridge, collect data from the Willamette River. A program developed by digital artist Morgan Barnard translates the data into a colorful and aesthetic display.

(Video: December 2014 Testing)

The temperature of the river controls the color of the lights. Warmer river conditions will display warmer colors, like orange and yellow, while cooler temperatures will display cool colors, like green and blue.

Tilikum Crossing in September (Photo Courtesy: Victor von Salza)
Tilikum Crossing in September (Photo Courtesy: Victor von Salza)
Tilikum Crossing in November (Photo Courtesy: Sky Schemer)

Notice how the lights seem to dance across Tilikum Crossing? That’s controlled by the tide. When the tide is coming in, the lights move towards the center of the bridge. As the tide goes out, the lights move towards the ends of the bridge. Additionally, the tide levels affect the speed of the lights. When the tide is higher or lower, the lights move faster. At midpoint, the lights move slowly.

Video Credit: Mike Warner

The speed of the river controls how quickly the colors change. If the river is moving fast, the colors will appear to move and cycle through quicker.

The river’s height affects the contrast in the lights. The higher the river, the more contrasted the colors appear, which affects the pattern and movement of the lights. This change varies with the season, so in the summer (when the river levels are pretty static) the bridge color will appear even and bright. In the spring, when the water tends to move more, the bridge colors will appear more fluid.

While a lot of scientific data is gathered to create this aesthetic light display, the bridge lights aren’t meant to serve as a weather tool. The artists, the late Anna Valentina Murch and Douglas Hollis, wanted these lights to represent a dialogue between the Willamette River and Tilikum Crossing — quite a poetic way to look at the lights, don’t you think?

Learn more about Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People

Learn more about our Public Art Program

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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