Last Saturday, Tri-Met celebrated its 5th MAX light rail line with the opening of the Green line, an 8.3 mile long system which runs from Portland State University to the Clackamas Town Center. The $575.7 million dollar project was built by Stacy and Witbeck and wide range of subcontractors. Stacy and Witbeck has been the leader for Commuter Rail, Streetcar and Light Rail projects in the United States with over 20 projects under construction or completed. Construction of the Green line took just 3 years from Final Design to Opening day. Impressive, considering the extensive work needed with the Steel bridge, new “diamond” crossings, and all done with minimal service interruptions to MAX and the Portland Streetcar. The I-205 corridor has more than 2300 parking spots available with the largest at Clackamas Transit Center with 750 spots. The I-205 corridor also features a mostly grade separated trail next to the ROW.
Check out the rest of the Green line after the fold!
With the new line also came new light rail vehicles. Tri-Met has continued to buy from Siemens and went with the latest model, the S70 (Tri-Met designates them Type 4) which brings a modern, sleek, streamlined look to the trains, a much needed improvement for a modernizing city. The new S70… Err, Type 4 vehicles are longer at 191 feet and only have 1 operator cab per vehicle. These vehicles are also 6,000lbs lighter, making them more energy efficient than previous models. The Type 4’s can carry more people than the older vehicles at 68 seated passengers and 104 standing passengers. Like most LRT’s, the Type 4 vehicles can hold 4 bikes per car. Since the Type 4’s only have 1 cab per car, they will always be in a 2 car configuration.
The way the line operates is unique in itself. When a Green line train terminates at PSU, it becomes a Yellow line train. When a Yellow line train terminates at PSU, it becomes a Green line train. This threw me off as I got off a Green line train and expecting it to be, well, a Green line train again only to see a Yellow line train pull up. Trains run from 4:30am to 12:30am 7 days a week with 10 to 15 minute intervals during peak and 15 to 30 minutes during off-peak.
Between Portland State University and the Steel Bridge, the Yellow and Green lines share the right-of-way (ROW). The Green line shares track between the steel bridge and Gateway Transit Center with the Red and Blue lines before it goes on its own ROW and follows I-205 to Clackamas. Tri-Met was able to save a lot of coin by using the existing ROW reserved for high-capacity transit. The biggest thing to note with this new line is that Tri-Met finally connected all three Portland-surrounding counties together with MAX, a long sought goal. The Green line is expected to bring another 25,000 daily riders to the system and is a key route for connecting Oregon City and Damascus to the system in the future. The steel bridge will carry MAX trains every 2 to 4 minutes during peak hours.
I missed all of the festivities as I took Amtrak # 501 down the morning of the event, which arrived at 10:45am. (Yes, 15 minutes early). I still hoped to see the speeches, since FTA Official Peter M. Rogoff spoke at PSU to congratulate Portland on behalf of President Obama. “This project embodies the core elements of the president’s agenda for the nation. It’s going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It’s going to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. And it will make an already livable city even more enjoyable.”
My trip on the Green Line began at 11:51am at the 6th and Montgomery MAX station with the arrival of a new Type 4 train. Tri-Met opted to run the older vehicles on the line along with with the newer Type 4, a big complaint for those that were riding the trains. As the train progressed, I took note of some features that aren’t on Link:
- More leg room – The fewer seats allowed for greater spacing between seating. Great for those that are over 6 feet tall.
- Quieter – Unless you are sitting in the center section.
- Doesn’t jerk when coming to a stop compared to Link and the Type 1-3 vehicles.
- Doesn’t truck hunt at all – The sections at 55mph the vehicles just simply floated. It was a dream to be on vs. jerky rough riding Tukwila section. Even the older Downtown to Gateway segment was bliss.
- Lighter vehicles aren’t always the best.. They could use that extra 6,000lbs when trying to accelerate up Glisan onto the Steel Bridge. They wheel slipped the entire way up the hill with even the lightest of application of power. They can maintain speed (10-15mph) but I highly doubt they will start on the hill in wet or icy conditions. This would explain why the trains hold at the intersection of Glisan and NW 3rd Ave, at the bottom of the hill.
When we arrived at Gateway Transit Center, we were at crush loads. The A/C system, however, still left me super cool with goosebumps even though it was nearing 85 degrees outside. As we progressed onto the Green Line, the switch was a good 30-35mph, which was impressive considering most LRV switches are done at a relatively low speed. The freeway speed limit on I-205 is 55mph so we kept up and passed traffic. The transit-way kept us on the east side of 205 for a mile before we dipped under 205 to the western side. Most of the new Park and Rides along the South end of the route were fairly empty of cars but were full of people, vendors and games along select stations. Each stop was at least 2-5 minutes as people shuffled in and out of the stuffed LRV’s.
We arrived at Clackamas 63 minutes later (compared to a 45 minute scheduled run) with a melee of people getting out of the trains. As we walked down the platform to get back to the line, a second train that was following just a few minutes behind us, equally full, arrived and started unloading. A word that was used by a few passengers was “chaos” but in a controlled sense. By mid evening, trains were running the scheduled 45 minutes. Typical bus service on this route requires a transfer and is around 51 to 90 minutes in length.
Overall, Tri-Met did a good job, though I do wish they would have provided some sort of bus service directly back to Downtown Portland. Most of the ride guides had no idea of a bus that even went back to Portland or to MAX from Clackamas. Not a way to really win some points but it’s a small oversight.
This new line opens up new ideas for Freeway TOD and Tri-Met has already allocated some space at the new park and rides just for this purpose. The big winner seems to be the new Type 4 LRV’s among the people of Portland. The new vehicles are beautiful, sleek and 70% low floor. I am not exactly sure why the center section is so loud from the electric motors but it can be almost ear piercing at times. They should study if they can make this quieter.
The completion of this route marks one more route off Tri-Met’s agenda. The next line, the Orange Line, will run from Union Station to Milwaukie and is slated to start construction in 2011 with opening in 2015. If the Columbia River Crossing is approved, an extension of the Yellow line to Vancouver, WA in 2018 will follow. There are talks to extend the Red and Blue lines and add a few more stations in new areas that have developed. Tri-Met and Portland Streetcar will also open the Portland East Loop in 2012 and an extension of the Streetcar to Lake Oswego is in the works. Portland is well on its way to becoming one of the largest rail systems in the United States with Salt Lake City and Dallas following close behind.
While the opening was nearly perfect, there are some things that could have been done differently. Tri-Met was effective and helpful in some categories but terrible in others. TVM’s are still a big issue at older stations but they are working on replacing older units with new units. At least Tri-Met had the Next Train arrival displays working on operating day, in contrast with Sound Transit, 2 months of service — and counting — without them.