Category Archives: Rider News

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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5 Tips for Commuting in the Rain

Fall is finally upon us. This means days are shorter, nights are colder and — more often that not — it’s raining. And it won’t be stopping anytime soon.

So, as we adjust to the changing seasons, here are some tips for commuting in wet weather to help hold you over until the dry days of summer return.

#1. Dress in layers.

Weather in Oregon can be unpredictable. One minute, the sun’s out. The next minute, it’s a downpour. It’s best to layer up before you head out so you’re prepared for whatever weather conditions come your way. (And yes, umbrellas are allowed!)

#2. Check trimet.org/alerts before you go.

It’s always best practice to check our Service Alerts page before you go to make sure your bus or train is not experiencing any detours or delays. You can also sign up for email updates to get service alerts that affect you delivered right to your inbox.

#3. Light up the night!

Bring a small flashlight or blinky-light with you (or use the flashlight on your smartphone) to help you see and be seen. It gets darker much earlier and stays dark later into the morning, so having a personal light on you keeps you safe and helps our operators see you better!

#4. Heads up while walking, please.

It’s so easy to be distracted by our devices, but walking while looking at your smartphone poses a safety risk for yourself and everyone else around you. When out and about, please pay attention to where you’re going, especially when crossing streets or MAX tracks. In addition to keeping your eyes off your phone, do make sure that you can see out from beneath your umbrellas and hoods!

#5. Be aware of your surroundings.

In extreme weather conditions, unforeseen incidents may happen, like a fallen tree or downed power lines. A downed line doesn’t have to spark to be dangerous. It can be dangerous even if you’re not touching it: Water, metal, tree branches, concrete or other materials touching the wire can conduct electricity to you. Please be extra safe and take extra precautions if you must travel during intense weather situations.

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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Thanks for Your Patience During the Rose Quarter MAX Improvements

Like we mentioned in our Rose Quarter Progress Report, the MAX improvements work this time around was much more complicated — and disruptive — than the First Avenue project from May.

Crews replaced and upgraded tracks, signals, switches and more around the Rose Quarter Transit Center.
Crews replaced and upgraded tracks, signals, switches and more around the Rose Quarter Transit Center.

Over the last two weeks, as we installed upgraded track, signals and switches near the Rose Quarter Transit Center, many riders became very familiar with the Lloyd Center–Rose Quarter shuttle buses. These were our best option for replacing the service between the three closed MAX stations, though they made for a disjointed commute.

Shuttle buses carried MAX riders between the Rose Quarter and Lloyd Center stations.
Shuttle buses carried MAX riders between the Rose Quarter and Lloyd Center stations, and between Kenton and Portland International Airport.

For others, the commute just became longer, as trains arrived less frequently (and more packed than usual). Finally, some chose to do something altogether different and took the bus, biked or shared a ride instead.

(We should also mention that the Kenton–PDX shuttle became an unexpected highlight of the project — thanks for all the positive feedback!)

In the end, nearly everyone had to plan for an altered commute.

Volunteer Ride Guides and Customer Service staff helped riders get around the Rose Quarter construction.

We asked a lot from you — more than ever — and throughout it all, your patience and understanding shone through. This attitude allowed us to focus on improving the 30-year-old trackway at the Rose Quarter safely and efficiently.

Here’s to you, and to a more reliable ride for decades to come!


 

Related:

MAX Reliability Improvements
Charting MAX On-Time Performance
• Rose Quarter MAX Improvements Progress Reports: 1, 2

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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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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BIKETOWN launches at Tilikum Crossing

Last Tuesday, BIKETOWN — Portland’s new public bike share system — hit the streets. We were at the launch event at Tilikum Crossing:

Ready to try it? Check out our tips for getting the most out of BIKETOWN.

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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BIKETOWN is coming

We know from our work creating the TriMet Bike Plan that our riders care about and rely on bike access. When BIKETOWN, Portland’s public bike share system, makes its debut tomorrow, many riders will have a new option for connecting to transit. That it’s healthy, fun and convenient is icing on the cake.

How does BIKETOWN work?

Ride for a single trip ($2.50), an entire day ($12) or for a whole year with an annual membership ($12/month).

Unlock a ride at the station using the computer and keypad on the back of the bike, and you’re on your way.

When you’re done, lock up at the station — the smart bike will know that you’ve finished your ride.

We like bike share because it extends the reach of transit, making trips by bus or train more accessible to more people. It also helps to make one-way bike trips possible and reduces barriers to biking like ownership, storage, maintenance and concerns about theft.

BIKETOWN

I’m looking forward to hearing and seeing how riders combine trips between BIKETOWN and TriMet. Personally, I’m excited to use bike share for short trips, connections to daytime meetings, getting out of the office for lunch and running errands after work.

BIKETOWN

A few things about BIKETOWN I’d like to point out:

  • If you ride on the Transit Mall (5th and 6th avenues) in Downtown Portland, be sure to stay on the left side of the roadway in the shared lanes and bike lane on portions of SW 5th. Please stay out of the transit lane(s) on the right side of the roadway, as these spaces are only for buses and trains.
  • Don’t bring the bikes on board. One of the best things about bike share is that you only use it when you need it — just park or pick up a bike wherever you’re connecting to the bus or train. (Plus, it doesn’t make sense to pay for bike share time on top of your transit fare.)
  • When you end your ride, if the BIKETOWN station closest to your destination is full, you can lock your bike at a public bike rack close to the station marked with an orange sticker for no additional charge. If you lock your bike at a public bike rack further from a station, a $2 fee applies.
  • The bikes don’t come with helmets, so bring your own if you want one and you plan on riding that day. Keeping a helmet at the office might be a good idea if you plan on riding during the day.
  • Cross tracks straight on. Crossing tracks at an angle or turning across tracks is risky — your wheel can slip into the trackbed and result in a crash. When in doubt, walk your bike across the tracks and check out these safety tips for riding a bike around transit vehicles.
  • You can make money using BIKETOWN. A little bit, anyway: Members who spot bike share bikes locked at public racks will be rewarded with a $1 account credit for returning them to a station.
  • Sneaker Bikes!

BIKETOWN

There are 100 BIKETOWN stations, which means lots of overlap with transit in Portland — take a look at the service area and station map to see what your next trip might look like.

As BIKETOWN establishes itself, we’ll continue working with our partners to encourage smooth connections for transit and bike riders. We hope to see you on a bright orange bike soon!

Learn more about BIKETOWN

Jeff Owen

Jeff Owen

I’m TriMet’s active transportation planner. I work with our regional partners to improve conditions for combining transit trips with walking and biking, including sidewalks, crossings, trails, bikeways, and bike parking. Away from work, I can be found walking, riding my bike, hiking or cheering in the Timbers Army.

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