Category Archives: Service Updates

Thanks for Your Patience During the First Avenue MAX Improvements

Asking you to avoid MAX for two weeks wasn’t easy. More than 100,000 rides are taken on a typical day — that’s a lot of people we hoped would consider taking the bus, biking, carpooling or working from home instead.

It’s the kind of thing we’d only do if we really had to — and for First Avenue, this was the case. We needed to replace critical sections of track and switches that had been in service since MAX opened in 1986, and the best way to do it was all at once. Unfortunately, that meant trains would have to be detoured around the project, adding pressure on everyone. Beyond the construction itself, we needed to communicate some complicated service messages to riders; in turn, many of you had to alter your commute and plan extra time.

We asked a lot but what you showed us was even more. The patience and cooperation you displayed was truly remarkable and deeply appreciated, and helped make a daunting project go even smoother than we hoped. Now we’re back and we’re better, and on track toward providing more reliable service.


 

Related:

MAX Reliability Improvements
Charting MAX On-Time Performance
• 1st Ave MAX Improvements Progress Reports: 1, 2, 3

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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What do you think of our Draft Bike Plan?

We’re currently creating the TriMet Bike Plan, a roadmap that will help guide future investments in biking infrastructure and amenities. This includes improving bike access to transit stops, expanding parking options, and accommodating bikes onboard buses and trains. The goal of the plan is to make bike+transit trips easier, safer and more convenient for more people.

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Biking helps to extend the reach of transit, making transit trips more accessible to more people. As the region grows and changes, we know our riders’ interest in connecting to transit by bike will grow.

This plan serves as a companion to our pedestrian access analysis from 2011. Though we don’t have direct control over sidewalks and bikeways, we recognize that if you can’t get to our bus stops and rail stations, you can’t benefit from our service, so good walking and biking connections are essential for our riders.

Weigh in: Whether you connect to bus, MAX or WES, or if you bike all the way to your destination, we want your feedback

With help from outside experts, we’ve drafted a plan that includes guidance from partners, including city and county leaders. This includes feedback from open houses, online outreach and rider comments. Of course, we also got input from our drivers. All of this was taken into account as we studied existing conditions, analyzed access to transit stations and stops, and studied best practices from other agencies around the country.

Feedback on a map at a Bike Plan open house

The plan includes recommendations for how to improve access to stations and stops, invest in bike parking improvements, and connect people with their community — all while easing traffic congestion and reducing air pollution. In the end, the goal is to make the Portland area a better place to live.

We’ll be taking your feedback through the end of the month and then finalizing the plan in June. So take a look at the plan, available for the next two weeks, and let us know what you think!

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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The Plan for First Avenue

We’ve made a big fuss about how the upcoming First Avenue improvements could make for a difficult commute over the next couple weeks, and you’re probably wondering what on earth could possibly create such chaos.

When we say improving, we’re talking about demolishing, replacing, flushing, installing, repairing and upgrading — below, you’ll find insight into what exactly we’ll be doing over the next couple weeks.

Early in the morning on Sunday, May 8, crews will begin saw-cutting around the portions of track that are being removed on First Avenue. Work has already started at Elmonica, our rail maintenance facility in Beaverton, to prepare the rails that will replace these sections.

Rails are being prepared for installation along First Avenue.
Rails are being prepared for installation along First Avenue.

Once the cutting is done, we’ll begin demolition of the trackway under the Morrison Bridge. This involves removal of rails, switch machines, wooden ties and salvageable cobblestone from around the switches. (Why that last one? The City of Portland has required us to replace the cobblestone when we’re done.) A few days in, the same demo work happens at NW 1st & Couch. Once the prep work is done at both locations, we’ll install new materials like track, switch machines, conduit, rebar and a new isolation membrane that guards against stray currents.

We'll be replacing track and switches like this — which are part of the original, 30-year-old MAX alignment — along First Avenue.
We’ll be replacing track and switches like this — part of the original, 30-year-old MAX alignment — along First Avenue.

Once everything is in place, we’ll align the rails to assure they are the right distance apart and check their vertical and horizontal placement. Then the concrete will be poured, first under the Morrison Bridge and later at Couch.

During the second week, we’ll begin the third major project near Skidmore Fountain. The curved section of rail here wears quicker than straight track and will be replaced. This part of the project should take about five days.

The curved section of track near the Skidmore Fountain will be replaced.
The curved section of track near the Skidmore Fountain will be replaced.

Final cleanup of the trackway should be complete by Saturday, May 21, but surfacing on First Avenue — including putting those cobblestones back in — could continue through May 27.

While all this track work is going on, some of our other crews will have a good opportunity to make some other improvements along First Avenue — a sort of silver lining to an otherwise very disruptive project. Maintenance crews will be able to flush and improved drainage under the Morrison Bridge (we don’t need to tell you why this is important), track drains will be cleaned, hardware on the overhead wire will be replaced and the feeder breaker at the Morrison Bridge substation will be retrofitted.

While track work is being done, other crews will have a chance to make repairs.
While track work is being done, other crews will have a chance to make repairs.

We’ll also be repairing and improving the surface alongside the rails that will benefit all street users. (Cyclists who make the bumpy crossing at Couch will be especially happy.) These projects may be supplementary to the track work but they’re critical to the bigger picture along First Avenue: We’re going all-in on these improvements, because that’s the smartest way to give our riders more reliable service into the future.

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 to navigate MAX during the 1st Avenue Improvements

Think of our upcoming work on First Avenue, and the accompanying service disruption, like a root canal procedure. It’s going to be messy and cause plenty of headaches. You’ll wish it were over sooner. And, in the end, you’ll be glad it happened.

And like with an invasive dental procedure, you’re going to have to be a little altered (your commute, anyways) to get through it.

We'll be replacing sections of track and switches along First Avenue in Downtown Portland.
It’s time to replace sections of track and switches like this along First Avenue in Downtown Portland.

Here are a few things we’re recommending for MAX riders during the two-week project:

Change your trip. If you can avoid peak hours or work from home, do it. Or take the bus (our buses will run on their regular routes during the project), the streetcar or try Lyft/carpooling. And if you choose to drive yourself for those two weeks, well, we get it.

Better yet, why not…

Bike there instead. May is National Bike Month and, even more excitingly, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance’s inaugural Bike More Challenge. Formerly the Bike Commute Challenge, which took place every September, the event is now more encompassing and accessible to every rider. Plus, it preempts the warm, sunny months that are perfect for cycling.

If you can bike all the way, more power to you. If you want to combine your trip with transit, lock up at the station (we have really nice Bike & Rides and secure bike parking all over the system) — don’t bring your bike on board. Trains are going to be packed, and it’s not worth the hassle of trying to wheel through the crowd. That’s a lot of nasty glares.

Plan extra time. In the end, we’re talking about significantly more crowded and less frequent trains, and the possibility you’ll have to transfer to a shuttle or walk a few more blocks to get to your destination. Everything’s going to take a little longer, so allowing at least 30–45 extra minutes for your trip is a good idea.

Now you’re ready to check the temporary schedules and plan your trip. (Don’t worry — our trip planner and TransitTracker will take these into account.) It’s going to be a little painful, but keep in mind what’s on the other side: more reliable service. The track and switches we’re replacing are old — MAX turns 30 this year — and malfunctions have become more frequent in the past few years. It’s time to dig in.

View animated maps and schedules for the 1st Avenue MAX 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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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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Here’s How We Plan to Improve MAX Reliability

In the two months since I joined TriMet as the new chief operating officer, I’ve developed an initial focus: delivering more reliable service, and doing it safely.

We know that MAX on-time performance (OTP), our measure of reliability, isn’t what it should be. Right now about one in every five trips is delayed. I know how frustrating this can be, and the impact it can have on a busy schedule. There are places you need to be — work, school, your child’s daycare, the doctor’s office — and it’s our responsibility to help get you there on time.

People took about 38 million trips on MAX last year.

The bottom line is that we need to do better, and earn your trust.

Our teams are working hard to chart a new course. We’re planning to address many areas that affect our system’s OTP, with a goal of raising it over time to an average of 90 percent. (For reference, we averaged 75 percent OTP for MAX in November.)

Achieving this will require some long-term efforts and investments, but I think we can do a lot in the months ahead.

What causes delays?

MAX is a very complex system that operates about 22½ hours a day, with a fleet of 145 vehicles. We’ve looked closely at what causes delays and found that one-third of it revolves around issues like cars blocking the tracks or passengers in need of medical attention — events beyond our immediate control. Even a fallen tree can cause a significant disruption, as we saw in December when it took four hours to clear a tree from the tracks in Downtown Portland. (Even though I was on a bus, we were gridlocked in the traffic backup and I felt the frustration.)

MAX vehicles at Ruby Junction. MAX is a complex system, running 22½ hours a day.
MAX vehicles at Ruby Junction. MAX is a complex system operating 22½ hours a day.

The remaining two-thirds of delays fall within our control, involving trains, signals, switches or numerous other operating issues.

How we’ll improve

To start, we’re focusing on four key areas:

Physical improvements

Parts of the MAX system are 30 years old, and some of its elements need to be upgraded or replaced.

This year, we’re dedicating more than $11 million initially to replace track and switches at the Rose Quarter and along First Avenue in Downtown Portland. (This will also likely require future investments.) Another focus will be on the Steel Bridge, the 104-year-old span that carries four MAX lines over the Willamette. That, along with the adjoining Rose Quarter area, is the site of frequent switch and signal problems. We’re designing an upgrade to the tracks, signals and switches on the bridge, and construction is scheduled to begin in 2017. Given the complexity of the system on the bridge, we’ve hired outside expertise to help us improve reliability and maximize capacity.

Four MAX lines cross the 104-year-old Steel Bridge.
Four MAX lines cross the 104-year-old Steel Bridge.

That’s the good news. However, as you might have guessed, work at the Rose Quarter and along First Avenue is going to require a disruption to MAX service while parts are upgraded or replaced. We’re working on a plan to help keep your ride as smooth as possible during that time, and we’ll share more as we get closer.

Meanwhile, we’ll continue overhauling and upgrading MAX vehicles, making them more reliable for many years and millions of miles to come.

More support for frontline employees

Our ever-growing bus and MAX system means we have a lot of new operators. They’re all capable and professional but, like at any new job, it can take time to get comfortable with the rhythm and intricacies of driving a train on a busy and recently expanded system. That’s why we’re planning to expand our support, coaching and training for operators, helping them become more assured and confident. This should make everyone’s ride smoother and more reliable.

Changing the way we operate

We can also change the way we operate to improve OTP and give you a more reliable ride. We’re working on that now, and I’m excited to see what we come up with. Rest assured, we will never compromise safety.

Working with partners to limit delays

The incident with the fallen tree and the four-hour delay spurred us to meet with the City of Portland to look for ways to shorten delays. We’re also reaching out to our first-responder partners to get trains moving quicker after an incident.

That’s where we start. As this work goes on, I want to be open with you about how we’re doing, the progress we’ve made and what we’ve learned. As I mentioned, this is a complex system and improving it involves focus and resolve. We have a great team of talented and proud people who work very hard to serve you each and every day. We’ll be providing updates and putting together a web page where you can track our performance over time, and we expect to see the number of delays go down over time as our reliability improves.

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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A pioneering connection between Tualatin and Sherwood

Tualatin and Sherwood are five miles apart, but they’ve never had a direct transit connection.

This gives us extra cause to celebrate last week’s announcement of a new bus line between the two cities — our first new line in years. We plan to start service next June by running buses during weekday commute hours. The route hasn’t been set, so the new line doesn’t have a name or number yet.

Get email updates about the new Tualatin–Sherwood bus line »

Both cities’ mayors have emphasized the importance of the connections this bus line will provide. Residents need to get places: Tualatin’s WES Station, downtown and industrial areas; the shops at Sherwood’s Parkway Village. After months of work and conversations with both communities, we determined that a line with 5,200 hours of service could begin as soon as summer 2016.

(We understand if you’re eager to get on board sooner, but consider all that’s left to do: researching the route, building bus stops, creating schedules, assigning operators, coordinating connections…)

We’re grateful for every opportunity to provide more and better service, and to be able to bring communities together makes that feeling even better. Often, when it comes to planning for the future, it’s easy to think change is still years down the road — this is a nice reminder that great things are often just around the corner.

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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