All aboard to Clackamas!
All aboard to Clackamas!

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.

Green means Go on the Yellow line - Image by Author
Green means Go on the Yellow line

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:

  1. More leg room – The fewer seats allowed for greater spacing between seating. Great for those that are over 6 feet tall.
  2. Quieter – Unless you are sitting in the center section.
  3. Doesn’t jerk when coming to a stop compared to Link and the Type 1-3 vehicles.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
Stuffed in the Type 4
The crowd at Clackamas MAX

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.

The crowd at Clackamas Town Center
The crowd at Clackamas Town Center

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.

Waiting to cross, waiting to board
Waiting to cross, waiting to board

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.

51 Replies to “Portland’s Green Line: The 5th Line in the Saga”

  1. Wish I could have made it down, but budget and the start of the school term prevented it. One comment about the truck hunting. When I rode the Canada Line in Vancouver, it was very smooth, as compared to the older Expo Line, which tended to jerk around a lot. I suspect that the ride will worsen as both the trains and the track ages.

    1. Already some problems in Dallas with the Green Line, mainly a scheduling bottleneck that is years away from being alleviated, but if anybody is resourceful with fixing any problems in there system, it’s DART. They bought High-Floor LRVs as the ADA took effect, and instead of finding a way to replace them with Low-Floors so soon(at the time only Portland had them, I believe), they lengthened them to add a Low-Floor center-section. Something some in Europe had done with older vehicles.

      On a lighter note, a Dallas car might end up in San Francisco. Not one of the Kinki Sharyo LRVs. San Francisco MUNI is about to restore some of it’s mothballed Double-Ended PCC cars, and asked the Market Street Railway to come up with ideas of what to paint these cars, called “Torpedos”, The F-Line’s fleet of PCCs is painted in the colors of the cities and companies that once operated the type, San Francisco is represented several times(MUNI’s 1940s Blue and GOld, and several Green and Whites from the ensuing decades). Dallas was one of those and is not represented yet, and that is one suggestion, another will be painted in Boston colors.(The other properties to operate Double-Ended PCCs, Illinois Terminal, Pacific Electric, San Francisco Muni, and Philadelphia’s Red Arrow lines are already represented).

      1. Sorry to keep posting, just got too many links I want to pass on on some issues. Here is the Market Street Railway Blog I was talking about, on the Dallas PCC.

        PCC was probably the best American Streetcar built up until now, and in the cities that gave it a chance, it really excelled. San Francisco, Boston, Newark, Cleveland(Shaker Heights Rapid Transit), Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Boston are examples. San Francisco and Toronto bought few new PCCs because they were able to get good deals on used ones from cities that converted to buses. Although the biggest fleet of PCCs left in regular service in the US is San Francisco, they still run in Boston, Philadelphia, and a new line in Kenosha, Wisconsin. I am hoping United Streetcar’s new car can end up becoming the PCC of the 21st Century. The PCC never had a chance in Seattle, although the union offered to bring one up from San Diego, only trolleybuses got a chance to do a demo.

  2. Your picture at Clackamas is funny because it has my friend Jojo in it, haha. She definitely stands out in a crowd.

  3. Don’t forget Denver in your SLC/DFW/PDX list of large and growing rail systems. Despite their nightmarish funding experience, if the Fastracks plan is built out by 2017 as planned, they’ll have 7 light rail lines (B, C, D, E, F, G, H), two EMU commuter rail lines (to Arvada and Denver Airport), two DMU commuter rail lines (to Boulder and Thornton), and an upgrade of the current Boulder Express bus to ROW-dedicated BRT.

    They’ll have that plus a rebuilt Union Station and the daily Amtrak California Zephyr run, and (someday) Front Range Commuter Rail from Cheyenne–>Denver–>Colorado Springs–>Albuquerque.

    1. Might not happen as fast as expected if counting on Federal Money though. FastTracks has something in common with the Utah Transit Authority’s FrontLines 2015, and ST2. They are all on Senator McCain’s list of projects to strike funding for. Apparently, feels he needs to continue his anti-pork crusade and will even go after Red State Projects. (Such as ones in Texas and Utah).

      1. You’ll note that both U-Link and the Bellevue to Redmond RapidRide is on McCain’s hit list. I guess because he feels all transit capital spending is “pork” while highways are “vital public projects”.

      2. I noticed that too. So is improvements to the Red Line in Chicago, which carries 200,000+ riders a day. I just hope his fellow Senators stand up on this one. If not, we will see a big setback. I wonder how that Hoover Dam Bypass got built, something needed in this day and age, because it is a bad idea to have a major highway run on top of a structure like the Hoover Dam. I mean, was Federal Money involved in building that, just like it was in building that new Light Rail line, in a certain city in the Senator’s home state? Tuscon’s Streetcars are being built by a company in Oregon, whose prototype vehicle was funded by one of McCain’s favorite targets, earmarks.

      3. I haven’t checked the FTA list of projects due to get project specific funding this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if McCain’s list has every specific project recommended for funding in next years budget by the FTA.

        I doubt McCain will get much support. This isn’t the first time he’s gone after rail or the FTA.

      4. With Light Rail lines being built and opening pretty frequently lately, probably his last chance. Since 2007, Charlotte, Phoenix, and Seattle have opened new lines, Dallas, Portland, and Los Angeles will be opening extensions, and more have been approved. I know Honolulu’s project will be the most expensive, but I wonder, how many steel-mills, iron-ore mines, and railcar factories are on Oahu? Probably not too many, if any, so they will have to be shipped in. Will give Matson and Horizon Lines a lot of business.(The two major Jones Act shippers between Hawaii and the West Coast, and I am not sure, I think McCain is supposedly opposed to this too, just like Buy America rules). Also, I wonder what are the oil and gas resources Hawaii has, or is it all imported. It is probably why Hawaii is working with Project Better Place on Electric Vehicle infrastructure. One of the backers, I think, is Governor Lingle, a Republican. Hawaii does have domestic energy resources of it’s own, Solar, Wind, Geothermal, and possibly Tidal and Wave(if it don’t affect the surfers, though), problem is, that does not translate into gasoline for cars that roll on the H-Routes.(Hawaii’s Interstate-like, Limited Access Highways)

      5. McCain is irrelevant. He’s been opposing all rails since forever. Not a change. In Denver, the two EMU commuter lines are their absolute top priority, they pencil out with excellent numbers, and the odds are they’re going to get funded — by the FTA and FRA, without earmarks.

      6. I am hoping it is just the let the man get his vote on his amendment, and then everybody votes against it. Seems the projects on the list, many of them have Full Funding Grant Amendments. I have seen the roller coaster in the past. U-LINK, I think is safe anyway, because isn’t Senator Murray still in the powerful Appropriations Subcommittee spot she has had for years, maybe even the chairman. Something interesting a former Congressmember that often shows up on the KPOJ Morning program in Portland, Bob Ney(the disgraced Bob Ney to be exact), mentioned something in defense of Earmarks. If they did not have them, only appropriations committee members would be getting any money. Bridges to nowhere are one thing, and after looking at a map of Knik Arm in Alaska, sure there was not much population on the other side of that body of water from Anchorage, but it is a long body of water to go around by land.

        Plus, I have seen in the past that there are Senators that are fiscal conservative, until there stuff is threatened. Looking at some of the Comments on the Streetsblog article, seems the only 2 Senators on board with McCain’s amendment are him and Coburn. North Carolina’s sole GOP Senator left may want votes in Charlotte for his next re-election, and I think that last election that was rail-related in Charlotte was pretty much in favor of it.

        The Denver East Line, which I believe is one of the 2 EMU Commuter Rail lines under FastTracks, is interesting. Goes to DIA, but passes through an area called Stapleton and will have two stations there. It is a new community built on the site of Stapleton International Airport, Denver’s old airport.

      7. Yes, Sen. Murray is Chair of the Transportation Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee. She also makes no apologies for being the Senate’s “Queen of pork”.

      8. Just wanted to pass on an update. According to Streetsblog, the only one of these amendments would be to strip out all DOT earmarks, and move the money to NextGen. It got 26 yes votes, the rest were no votes, and failed. Senators Bayh, Feingold, and McCaskill voted for the amendment. NextGen is something that is needed, but if it is delayed, the existing Air Traffic Control system needs an upgrade. A few years ago(it’s been awhile) I saw a story in the Times about radars at Seattle TRACON giving off ghost images(a plane showing up on radar that is not even there), the FAA said they would upgrade the software. Seattle TRACON covers a wide area, and includes Sea-Tac Airport. The danger of the false images on radar could be bad, possibly putting a controller into the position of causing a crash he or she is trying to avoid. Made me wonder, how many other centers had that problem? Although I would not take money from rail and roads to fund the upgrade. The FAA Reauthorization bill has been stalled at times.

      9. Sorry I have gone off-topic, but here is the Seattle Times article about the radar problems at Seattle TRACON. It is from 2003, though.

        Although Rail can have accidents, and I do have a problem with some of the dispatching for Amtrak Cascades and SOUNDER being handled from BNSF’s center in Fort Worth, and would prefer the dispatching fortress be dismantled, as CSX is doing, and Norfolk Southern never did consolidate that aspect. Used to be where dispatchers could ride shotgun in the locomotive and get a tour of the area they oversaw, and later BN actually institutionalized it for awhile.(Although it was often in a Hi-Rail car). Running on Portland and Western trackage, Westside Express in Portland I believe is dispatched locally.

  4. Nice report, Brian.

    Regarding not using the Type 4s exclusively for opening day runs, that was a deliberate decision. The Type 4s were entered into general service on all lines in August, in order to prevent their being associated with the Green Line. This was a lesson learned from the Yellow Line, which when it opened was exclusively run with the Type 3 cars. When the agency began to filter the Type 3s into the rest of the system, the neighbors along the Yellow Line complained that “our cars” were being taken away.

    The Type 4 cars are indeed impressively smooth, I had not expected that level of ride quality. I’m not 100% happy with the hand hold arrangements in them — it’s not as comfortable to stand beside the end doors and ride facing forward, back against the upper gallery divider. I’ll just have to get used to it, however.

  5. Awesome Site! I follow along everyday! Haven’t commented much tho.

    Anyway props to Portland for showing some direction for the rest to follow. I desperately want to come up to see the sites without having to drive everywhere.

    I am in Dallas and the green line expansion will be a god send for me once it opens up completely. I live about 2 miles from its last stop in Carrollton.

    What I wanted to know was with football season started has Link been utilized by the masses?

    1. There are always extra Link trains on standby to carry out post-game crowds. I believe a specific siding was built near Stadium to allow for these “crush-load” trains.

    1. The blue line has been counted as two segments, east and west, and were built 12 years apart (’86 and ’98 I believe). So 4 lines, 5 projects.

  6. Way to go Portland, 3 lines built in one decade alone, and I hope they can get the Milwaukee MAX Line built next, and get started on the next Long Range Plan. On paper, that one looks impressive.

    1. Here is a link to the Oregon Metro news release on their 30 year plan. It is the map that is more interesting showing the three categories of proposed lines, overlaid with the existing MAX System, and the remaining lines from the old plan. The Near-Term Regional Corridors look mostly to be Powell-Barbur MAX, but it is the lines in Yellow on the map, which are Next Phase Regional Corridors that are interesting. They include two new Westside lines, between Hillsboro and Beaverton and Sunset TC, and then a proposal for several corridors in the Clackamas County area. They include extensions of the now open Green and soon to be built(hopefully) Milwaukee Line from their current Termini to Oregon City. Making Oregon City a hub(if the extensions are built), and there are two East-West lines in the Clackamas County area that avoid Downtown Portland, one through Lake Grove and Lake Oswego, and another line that skirts the edge of the Urban Growth Boundary, pulling into Oregon City. This looks too comprehensive to be true, but with Portland getting so much Light Rail built in the last 25 years, I think it has a chance.

      1. Seems the saying Portland being America’s Most European City(I forget who said it, though), might be right. MAX started with just the Portland-Gresham line, Karlsruhe, Germany’s massive Tram-Train network, which is a different story, started out with just one line, and was extended to DB branches facing closure, that operated more efficiently with Light Rail Vehicles, saw ridership go up. I doubt the Karlsruhe Model would totally be adopted here, though, we have some exceptions, but FRA/FTA rules would prevent it. Usually track-sharing of Light Rail and mainline rail is time-separated. I was mainly bringing up this site here devoted to Karlsruhe for it’s maps that are time-lapsed in the network’s expansion since 1961.

  7. so has ST figured out what the problem is with the Tukwila – MLK elevated section? is it a flaw in the design of the LRVs ? (center truck wheelbase too short?) or is it shoddy contruction?

    1. I’ve also noticed the Link cars hunting a lot on the northbound curve into Westlake Station. Sometimes it is so rough I’ve seen people who were standing nearly fall over.

      1. Yes, the northbound turn into Westlak is the jerkiest part of the ride. It almost feels like the track there is faceted instead of curved. I thought I remembered hearing years ago that when they built the bus tunnel in the late 80’s they constructed this curve tighter than FRA reccomendations. Does anyone know if this is true?

    2. Its partially due to the way the vehicles sit on the tracks. If you notice the rail wear, it’s in two unusual places: deep down the side of the rail and a bit over the top of the rail crown (on the outward side). This suggests the wheels are either a strange shape (this was not a problem until the trains were worn in) or the vehicles are out of gage. This can be fixed somewhat by tweaking the gage and/or by retuning the LRV’s tires. Yes, they have tires and they can be removed/replaced..

      1. Could it be that the track on the Tukwila elevated section is out of gauge? It seems like the problem is confined to that section, the ride on MLK is very smooth and the relatively high-speed running through the Beacon Hill tunnel and SODO is pretty smooth as well.

  8. How severe is the truck hunting on the elevated sections of Link? I keep hearing different reports that it is either very slight or back straining.

  9. Correct.. I took ST 127 from Stadium to Tukwila after the Mariners game it noticed that while it hunts, it isn’t as bad as the earlier models (101-115)

    There seems to be several problems;

    The bolster pin bushing is wearing prematurely and causing this to happen.

    The track is out of gauge enough to cause the hunting effect…hard to adjust due to being embedded ROW.

    The wheels/tires needs to be retrued to bring things back into tolerance.

    The Portland MAX Type 1-3 for example trunk hunt no matter what work is done to them. I have a feeling that the issue lays more than just the track but rather LRV’s… I was totally expecting to be rocked and rolled on the Type 4’s but like I said, it was comparable to riding the Talgo at track speed…it was THAT NICE.

  10. In response to EvergreenRailfan
    I am a correspondent for Talk Radio News Service ( Ellen Ratner) and I call into radio stations across the United States. One of my favorite stations is KPOJ. What I stated is that if earmarks are banned for Members, as John McCain wants to do –except when he likes them- then the bureaucracy will make decisions for Portland, Columbus, Charleston, etc. Earmarks should be totally transparent so that voters can weigh in on who and why they were done. I have said that allowing an unelected government worker to decide the fate of the cities and states would not be a good alternative as McCain would like to see.
    By the way, the “disgraced” Bob Ney is fine, in fact, if I pass before you, feel free to fly to Ohio and spray it on my tombstone if someone does not beat you to it!
    But I also wanted to note that I also have my own radio show, Monday through Friday, 1-3 p.m. EDT on
    By the way, I have been to Portland many times, and will be back, it is a jewel in the crown of the United States.
    Best Wishes

    Bob Ney
    Ohio/Washington D.C.

    1. Sorry abut that, should have expected anybody would read this. You do have a good point on the need for transparent earmarks.

      1. I have passed through Ohio once, on the Broadway Limited, so long ago(15 years), and the Cardinal(same trip, unfortunately the timing for both was bad). One of the reasons I prefer trains over planes, if they were convenient. You can spend more time in a place you have never been on the former.

        I susbscribe to many podcasts, KPOJ Mornings, and one of KIRO-FM’s shows are the ones I listen to with regularity. The rest out of curiosity. On one Australian ABC(there equivalent of the CBC/BBC), they were doing a review of the morning papers, and one out of Melbourne had what seemed to be a shocker. Retiring the W-class trams, which are a Melbourne Icon. Usually if nothing interesting, skip to the next one.

  11. I rode the MAX Type 4 vehicles from PDX to downtown a few weeks ago…and though I don’t really remember how smooth the ride was, I was disappointed in the seating configuration. In the Type 2-3 vehicles (the newer pre-Type 4 ones) they have seats that face the center aisle in the middle sections of the cars. I find this preferable for stretching out, and especially when you have a bag that can sit in front of you. I heard a couple of other people mention this as a limitation as well. I was happy to see that the LINK vehicles had these center aisle facing seats. Still, they are pretty cool.

    1. An interesting feature of the Type 4 cars is that they have only one operating cab each, to add more seats at one end. There is a TriMet operator that runs a blog that says the TriMet LRV operators call them the Type 4 Parlors, because of the seating arrangement. Now there is a drawback to the Type 4 cars having this arrangement, they have to be operated in train, can’t run alone. Ironically, puts them in the same boats as the Type 1s for a different reason. As for the Type 1, TriMet just rebuilt them, going to get 20 more years out of the vehicles.

      It is good to finally get MAX to Union Station. The first time I took a trip by myself to Portland(August, 2001, forget the exact date), I was trying to find the MAX line after getting off the Greyhound. It was a several block bus ride to get to it on the Transit Mall. Now with the many Amtrak Cascades trips on the corridor, makes sense to finally have MAX serve Union Station, almost like how it serves the airport.(Union Station the trains are passing through, not terminating like the Red Line at the airport). One more leg in the region’s intermodal transportation system.

      1. Oh yeah, I am excited to have MAX basically right out the front door of Union Station. I usually just walk downtown if that’s where I’m staying, but occasionally I’m over by Lloyd Center (sometimes I still walk, but if I’m on the last train down or if it’s raining, the free ride without walking to Old Town/Chinatown will be great!).

        Regarding the Type 4 cars, I noticed that configuration with the seats at the connecting ends of the train. Those might be good substitutes for the center aisle facing seats…but they were occupied when I boarded. I’ll have to try them next time.

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