Category Archives: Transit Geekery

Sign of the times: Older MAX destination signs going digital

The iconic MAX destination signs on our “old” trains—those made between 1983 and 2003—are going digital.

We’re phasing out the older signs as we replace the communications systems on 105 train cars. Yes, this includes the old-school roll signs that have to be hand-cranked by our MAX operators (a time-consuming task).

Since last year, we’ve been installing LED destination signs on the front, side, interior and back of these trains so you can more clearly see—even on those dark, dreary December days—where your train’s headed. We’re also upgrading the speaker systems so you can hear us better and be able to listen to any special recorded announcements.

Doug Jones is a TriMet engineer working on the project. He says with the opening of the new MAX Orange Line, it didn’t make sense to buy new destination roll signs that included “Orange Line.” Plus, there was simply no room left on the old hand-cranked roll signs.

“It’s good timing to work on this project as we expand our MAX network,” Jones says. “It’s a more flexible system and improves service to our passengers.”

A destination roll sign prior to replacement.
A destination roll sign prior to replacement.
A new interior LED sign.
A new interior LED sign.

It takes six people about four days to strip out the old communications systems on a train and install the new equipment. More than one-third of the trains are done, but not without some challenges.

“Working on the oldest trains is more difficult than expected because we’re using the existing conduits that pipe underneath,” Jones says. “It takes a lot of effort to pull through the new cables because the space is tight.”

You’ll still see the older signs around for a bit longer. But don’t hold your breath—all MAX signs will be digital sometime in 2016.

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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Moving forward with cleaner, more energy-efficient buses

Our buses continue to become more fuel and emissions efficient.

Although our older buses consistently meet federal emissions standards, our newer buses—which make up about one-third of our fleet of 655— emit far fewer particulates into the air.

Why?

A big reason is our newer buses have a diesel particulate filter that removes soot from the exhaust. We’ve also retrofitted 196 of the older buses with these special filters, which remove at least 98 percent of the black powdery stuff.

Diesel particular filters removes most of the soot from the exhaust from our buses.
Diesel particulate filters remove most of the soot from our buses’ exhaust.

Our newer buses also emit less smog-inducing nitrogen oxide (NOx), a pollutant caused by fuel burned at high temperatures. The technology converts NOx into oxygen, nitrogen and water before it exits the tailpipe.

Smart sensors

Another technology that reduces fuel consumption by about five percent is called Sensotop. Made in Germany, it’s a shifting algorithm that uses sensors to change the gear-shifting calibration based on weight and terrain.

For example, a full bus going uphill requires more power—which Sensotop helps provide—while a bus with fewer people going downhill or on level roads requires less. These sensors are on all the buses we’ve purchased in the past three years, and we’ve also retrofitted 40 older buses.

Cool cooling system

In the transit world, we’re also pioneers of a NASCAR-inspired electronic cooling system that reduces engine drag, maximizes horsepower and improves fuel economy by up to 10 percent. Developed for military heavy equipment, it’s on about half our bus fleet. EPA actually gave us a Clean Air Excellence Award for helping bring the technology to the transit market (Woohoo!).

Improving MPG

Cars in the United States average about 25 miles per gallon. Our buses made in the early 1990s averaged about 4 miles per gallon. Our newer fleet typically gets between 4.5 to 5 miles per gallon with the added challenge of having air-conditioning systems, more electronic accessories and stricter emissions standards.

Getting an extra half-mile per gallon may not seem stellar, but for the scale of our vehicles, it’s a 12 to 25 percent improvement. And if you have 40 passengers on board who would have otherwise driven a car, it’s like getting 180 to 200 miles per gallon!

What’s next?

We’re buying 77 more buses by mid-2016 that will be low-floor, low-emission and air-conditioned. This purchase will help us get our fleet closer to an average age of eight years, the industry standard.

Riders often ask about getting more hybrid, electric, biogas or compressed natural gas (CNG) buses. We’re considering all of these quickly-evolving technologies. In fact, four of the latest generation HybriDrive® Series buses should hit the streets sometime in October. As we test these new technologies, we look for cost-effectiveness of a bus’ entire lifecycle before making wholesale changes to the fleet.

Learn more about our new buses

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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Tilikum Crossing: Set Apart by Design

Building a new bridge across the Willamette River is a big deal.

So when it came to designing the first span over the river since the Fremont Bridge opened 42 years ago, we approached every aspect of Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People, with an imaginative and intentional eye for the details.

At more than 1,700 feet in length, Tilikum Crossing is the only bridge of its kind in the U.S. The bridge will carry MAX trains, buses, streetcars, cyclists and pedestrians starting Sept. 12, 2015.

From the beginning, the bridge was designed to be different. Carrying transit, bicyclists and pedestrians — but no cars or trucks — meant the structure could be radically streamlined. A bridge built to accommodate private automobiles could easily be twice the width of Tilikum Crossing, because it would need extra lanes, places to pull off and ramps at either end.

Donald MacDonald, a San Francisco architect whose portfolio includes the new San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, envisioned something special for the small bridge. The cables on most cable-stayed bridges attach at the deck and on the tower, which bears the load. But given Tilikum Crossing’s size, 10 single cables could be threaded through each of its four towers, creating elegant triangular forms that mimic the distant slopes of Mt. Hood.

Artist Errol Beard's rendering of Tilikum Crossing
Artist Errol Beard’s rendering of Tilikum Crossing

Tilikum Crossing’s thin deck keeps its footprint small, though it offers plenty to cyclists and pedestrians. The paths on each side are 14 feet wide — the widest of any Portland bridge — and even larger at the belvederes, where they wrap around the towers.

CityLab: Why Portland is Building a Multi-Modal Bridge that Bans Cars

You might think Tilikum Crossing’s light, open look would be overshadowed by its neighbors — tall, stately Ross Island Bridge to the south and the Marquam Bridge’s utilitarian decks to the north — but even its presence has been carefully calculated. By day, it’s airy and even (at risk of sounding cheesy) aspiring. Its towers assert themselves without overreaching and it stands comfortably in its place.

At night, though, is when the bridge really stands apart. Artist Doug Hollis and his wife, the late Anna Valentina Murch, along with programmer Morgan Barnard, created an aesthetic lighting program that will control the 178 LEDs that illuminate the bridge. The program pulls data from the USGS river monitor and adjusts the lights’ colors according to the water’s height, speed and temperature.

Even its name figures into Tilikum Crossing’s design. Tilikum is the Chinook Wawa word for “people” — hence Bridge of the People. Historian Chet Orloff, chair of the committee that named the bridge, says the name was selected because it connects our region’s past with the promise of its future.

“Tilikum symbolizes coming together. It conveys connections, in not only the relationships between people, but in the connections we will make as we ride, walk, run and cycle across this beautiful new bridge,” said Orloff.

If the staggering turnout at our recent People’s Preview is any indication, the name fits. That Sunday, more than 40,000 friends, families and neighbors came together and celebrated their bridge. Could there be a more meaningful endorsement of Tilikum Crossing’s unique design?

Bridge facts
  • The first span over the Willamette in the Portland area since the Fremont Bridge in 1973
  • Four-pier cable-stayed bridge type (two piers on land, two in the water at the towers)
  • About 1,720 feet in length
  • Two towers, each 180 feet high
  • 75.5 feet wide (110.5 feet at the towers)
  • About 3.5 miles of cable
  • 14-foot-wide path for cyclists and pedestrians (one on each side)
  • 25 mph max. speed for buses and trains
  • For transit, pedestrians and cyclists only

Learn more: Tilikum Crossing and the MAX Orange Line »

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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You asked: How will the MAX Orange Line work in Downtown Portland?

The new MAX Orange Line will run 7.3 miles from Oak Grove into Downtown Portland, passing through towns and fields before reaching Tilikum Crossing, the newest span over the Willamette.

 

We’re often asked what happens after Orange Line trains go over Tilikum Crossing and enter Downtown Portland: Do they turn around at PSU? Do they become Yellow or Green line trains? Will I have to transfer to get to the Transit Mall?

The Orange Line will share Green/Yellow line tracks once it reaches the PSU South/SW 6th & College Station in Downtown Portland. What’s more, the Orange and Yellow lines will share vehicles — this is called interlining. Throughout most of the day, Orange Line trains heading north will continue as Yellow Line trains along their normal route.

This means a one-seat ride from Milwaukie and Oak Grove into Downtown Portland and beyond, all the way up to Expo Center.

Similarly, most Yellow Line trains headed south will continue as Orange Line trains down to the end of the line at the SE Park Ave Station. Interlining is more efficient than turning Orange and Yellow trains around Downtown; it requires fewer trains and eliminates transfers for north-south riders.

Most MAX Orange Line trains will continue as Yellow Line trains in Downtown Portland. Most southbound Yellow Line trains will continue as Orange Line trains before reaching Union Station.
So why isn’t this a Yellow Line extension?

Separating the two lines gives us flexibility, allowing us to increase frequency on one line without affecting the other. (For example, projections of high ridership on the Orange Line mean that some of its trains will turn around at Union Station during rush hour to meet that demand.)

Looking down the road, any addition of light rail or high-capacity transit in the future — like the options Metro is studying for the Southwest Corridor — would have an effect on ridership patterns on the system.  It’s possible that the difference between service frequency on the Orange and Yellow lines might become even more pronounced. As it is, we expect relatively few riders to travel between Milwaukie and North Portland; most are likely to head Downtown or transfer to east-west service.

Additionally, we think the Orange Line deserves its own recognition as a pioneering endeavor. Besides showcasing the first bridge of its kind in the U.S., the Orange Line features a host of sustainable elements like eco-roofs, eco-tracks and bioswales to capture stormwater runoff. And it serves a distinct corridor stretching from the region’s urban core to growing communities, setting it apart as our region’s newest light rail line.

Get more MAX Orange Line details at catchtheorange.com »
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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Our oldest MAX trains are getting makeovers

We launched our first MAX trains—what we call the Type 1—nearly 30 years ago in 1986. That same year, “Top Gun” graced the silver screen, Ronald Reagan lived in the White House and big hair was all the rage.

Since then, our Type 1 trains have logged 1.6 million miles in the metro area and over time, they’ve begun to show their age. With time, the trains’ body filler (like industrial-strength putty) has broken down, allowing moisture to get through. Also, the stairwells in these high-floor trains have signs of rust and corrosion.

Massive makeover

A bare Type 1 MAX train
A bare Type 1 MAX train

To extend their operating lifetime (for up to 20 years), we started refurbishing these trains in 2002. To date, 21 trains are fully restored and two are in process. The last three Type 1 trains are expected to be revived by the end of 2016.

From start to finish, it takes three people about six months—or about 3,500 labor hours—to refurbish a Type 1 train. Here are the key steps to refinish this train:

  • Remove equipment on the roof, exterior end and sidewalls.
  • Cover door and window openings.
  • Chip off old body filler and paint and grind the entire exterior to the metal.
  • Apply epoxy primer and three coats of body filler.
  • Use industrial-scale white body paint, then TriMet blue and yellow color coats.
  • Refinish and reattach doors.

“It takes a lot of effort to get all of the body filler down to the metal,” says Mark Grove, who is the Manager of Rail Equipment Maintenance at our Gresham facility. “We have talented light-rail mechanics like Bob Culpepper who help make this project happen.”

Grove also says it’s an “art form” to get the body filler flat and smooth. And unlike the original primer and filler, modern filler flexes with the metal of the train’s movement, which makes it last longer.

New signs, windows, HVAC

Mark Grove with a refurbished Type 1 MAX train.
Mark Grove with a refurbished Type 1 MAX train.

Type 1 trains are the only ones in the MAX fleet where its destination signs are hand-cranked by the operator. As part of the rehab, all Type 1 trains will feature new digital signage.

We’re also upgrading the HVAC systems, along with the old vented windows, and replacing them with single-piece fixed windows. This will increase energy efficiency and give you a quieter ride and more open space.

Finally, we’re replacing the old propulsion/braking resistors that are mounted on the roof. The old ones are at the end of their useful life.

“The new resistors have a 20% higher capacity, so they’re stressed less, will be more reliable and last longer,” Grove says.

Why not buy new?

Renovating a Type 1 train is far less costly than buying new. A new light-rail train costs up to $4 million. A Type 1 train rehab runs about $200,000. Cha-ching!

Next in line

Once all the Type 1 renovations are done, we’ll start makeovers on the Type 2 trains.

In the meantime, check out our brand new MAX trains! We’ll be welcoming 18 new-and-improved MAX vehicles to our fleet this year.

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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More service brings more riders: adding up TriMet’s ridership stats

Riders often tell us what they want their transit service to look like: more frequent buses, more trains, better connections and early morning and late-night trips. More and better service, clearly, are big motivators to getting you on board.

Since fall 2013, we’ve been making big strides toward getting service hours back to the high levels that predate the Great Recession—and now we’re almost there.

When we looked at our winter quarter ridership numbers (December–February) compared to the same period the previous year, we got some insight into just how these service improvements affect riders’ habits. So we were pretty happy to see a 2.8% increase in overall ridership this last quarter over the year before. It’s a small percentage that tells a big story, considering three very different factors that go into it:

Rides on buses were up 4% overall, and up 5.4% on our Frequent Service lines.

Bus Weekly Boarding Rides

Bus ridership has been growing pretty consistently over the last year since we started adding back service that was cut during the recession. In September 2013, we began making improvements to return Frequent Service to every 15 minutes or better.  (Our 12 Frequent Service bus lines are our most popular lines, providing more than half of all bus trips.) We’re making good progress toward delivering the improved bus service that riders want and deserve. 

MAX Light Rail ridership was up slightly, increasing 1% over the previous year.

MAX Weekly Boarding Rides

WES Commuter Rail ridership was down 10.7% (about 170 rides a day).

WES Weekly Boarding Rides

Why the drop? We’re not sure, exactly, but our manager of service performance and analysis suggested low gas prices as a likely factor. As gas prices fall, some riders may be going back to their cars for some trips.

Are you a WES rider or Highway 217 commuter? We’d like to hear what you think: Let us know at trimet.org/feedback.

More service, more riders

The demand for transit is strong in the Portland area, and we’re excited to be in a position to grow our system again. As we add more service on the street, more people are noticing (and taking advantage of it!).

Where do we go from here? We’re looking ahead and planning future improvements, particularly for bus service. We’ve been asking riders in different parts of town what improvements they’d like to see as resources become available. Learn more and share your vision for the future of transit in your community »

Want to dig in to the data? Check out our complete performance dashboard and sign up to get updates by email »

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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March 18 is Transit Driver Appreciation Day!

Have you thanked your bus driver or given your MAX operator a friendly wave lately?TDAD logo

Just last year, more than 250,000 transit operators in the U.S. gave us over 10.5 billion rides. And while many of us greet our drivers with a “Hello” and exit with a “Thank you,” we think they deserve some official recognition, too. That’s why on March 18 riders across the country celebrate Transit Driver Appreciation Day!

This day of thanks began when riders in Seattle thought to recognize their friendly operators on a significant date: March 18, when the world’s first urban bus system made its debut in Paris in 1662. In the centuries since, public transit operators have kept the world moving. They’ve helped us through everything from day-to-day traffic to serious economic recessions—needless to say, the job isn’t always easy.

So let’s show our appreciation by saying “Thanks,” signing a card and submitting commendations. Like the official Facebook page and tag your shares with #tdad.

Look at what your fellow TriMet riders are saying about their operators, and add your story!

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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