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Trip Report

LRV's and Trolleys in Portland OR

August 26, 2007


When I first started taking long distance Amtrak (ATK) trips for pure leisure and not for business, I often was not interested in renting a car once I reached a destination point. Usually I would stay no more than a couple days, and the cost of a rental car for short durations was often more than I was willing to pay. Also, many of my destinations had ample bus or train service to make renting a car unnecessary. They might not be able to get me to every interesting RR spot in an urban area, but they could get me to enough to keep me busy for the time I would be in that city.

One such city is Portland, OR. When I first visited the city, there was only one LRV line then in operation - between Hillsboro in the west and Gresham in the east. Now, the LRV lines are expanding like topsy. There is a line between downtown and the airport. It uses the line to Gresham for some of the trip. There are also other LRV lines that get into the NW and SE portions of the city. I didn't have time to ride these, but noticed them while driving - in an rental car this time.

The entire electric powered rail operation is called "Tri-Met." The LRV "intercity" lines are now called MAX or Tri-MAX. There is another overhead electric powered rail line that's simply called "the Trolley." This line runs mainly downtown (as does one LRV line) and connects NW 23rd St. with what's called the Southwest Waterfront District. This line I did ride.

The trolleys look nothing like the LRV's. The LRV's are larger and boxier looking. The trolleys are similar to the newest LRV's found on the San Diego system's Green Line, but a bit smaller. They have a streamlined look to them with mostly glass on both ends. The trolleys, unlike the LRV's, are found in a multiple array of color combinations.

For mileage collectors - The ONLY way to ride over ALL the right-of-way (except the track into or out of the car shop near the NW end of the line) is to start your ride at a particular stop and get off only upon returning to that same stop as the line is one-way only. The track going in the opposite direction is usually located at least a block away, over one street. There are a few stations where the line looks like a typical double track system. These are located near the south end of the line. Trolleys and LRV's run every 10-15 minutes even on Sundays.

If you are in town on a weekend and take a trolley to the SW Waterfront, as soon as you detrain look south. You should see another rail line about a block away that ends right at the parking lot by the trolley terminal. This is the Willamette Valley Trolley. Except that - there is no overhead wire, nor any third rail. What the heck?

This is a tourist line that runs on weekends. Trips start from the south end of the line at 10:00 AM and continue hourly until later in the afternoon. The line is 6 miles long. A roundtrip costs $9.00, so it isn't cheap (more about the pricing on the LRV's and trolley line is below). Seeing that I was there about 11:00 AM, and seeing that a "Willamette Valley Trolley" was then due, I hung around to see what would transpire. Sure enough, a few minutes after its due time [I was later told that sometimes the motorman will stop and give a lecture about the RR, etc. before continuing on to the north end of the line] a "trolley" pulled into the "station." It was a typical looking trolley car (not a PCC, but rather a double-ended, rounded ended trolley typical of what I THINK you'd have seen in the 1930's or so). In front of it was this square box that the trolley was pushing along. THIS was the electric power source !!! Weird! I took a few pictures and left as I had to turn in the rental car before noon. Fortunately, the Budget Rental Car place was just a few minutes drive from this spot (renting a car in a downtown location was over $100 cheaper than renting a car from the same company at the Portland airport).

It was after I turned in the rental car that I took a complete ride over the trolley line. Riding the entire line takes less than an hour. Tickets on any Tri-Met train are good for two hours. So, on the trolley, you should have time to get off at some stop for a short period of time. Fares are based on a zone system with $1.70 being the max fare (two zones) on the trolley line. However, on all Tri-Met trains, there is a large FREE ZONE that comprises MOST of downtown Portland. Stay within this zone and you can ride for free all day. All day passes cost $5, I think. As I didn't have that much time before the EMPIRE BUILDER left (this was on Sunday, August 26 at 4:45 PM), I had no need to buy an all day pass.

On weekends Tri-Met also runs some "historic trolleys." They do look historic, but with PANTOGRAPHS rather than trolley poles they also look a little bit ridiculous. While riding these is also free within the "Free Zone", this is a volunteer operation and solicits donations no matter where they are running. The historic trolleys stay mainly within the downtown area, but do cross the Willamette River to the east side of town. I'm not sure if the east side is within the "Free Zone."

Within a year or so there will be another LRV line completed that will connect Portland's ATK station with the entire Tri-Met system. Right now you have to walk a few blocks to reach either the trolley line (NW side of town) or MAX (China Town stop close to the bridge across the river). Currently, the street outside the ATK station is totally torn up. There are signs posted to help you get around the construction, but they can be a bit confusing.

Other cities that are fairly easy to get around without a car include: LA, San Francisco, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago. St. Louis is getting better, but isn't there yet.

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