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Trip Report

OTOL Pacific Northwest RailFest 2010 LITE

July 18-23, 2010

Photos by Lynn Hammond, Eric Minton, Jishnu Mukerji, and John Corbett.

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Chapter 3.7: Portland Vintage Trolley, PSU/SW 5th & Mill to PSU/SW 5th & Mill

Portland Vintage Trolley at 5th & Mill in University District. The Portland Vintage Trolley runs along the length of the Portland Mall, southbound on 5th Avenue and northbound on 6th Avenue. It follows the same route as the TriMet MAX Green Line and Yellow Line with a few exceptions: It does not go over the Steel Bridge into the Rose Quarter as MAX does, and it carries passengers around the southern loop at PSU. Conversely, MAX dumps its southbound passengers at SW 5th & Mill, and picks up its first northbound passengers at SW 6th & Montgomery. While all MAX trains use the loop to turn north, they do not do so with passengers aboard. So by boarding at SW 5th & Mill we would be able to ride on trackage not served in revenue MAX service... and for free. There is only one Trolley in service, and we must have just missed it. We had to wait almost 40 minutes for it at this corner.

Talkative driver on the Portland Vintage Trolley. Once the 12 of us got aboard, we found the Vintage Trolley crew quite entertaining. The operator joked around with the passengers and was not afraid to say what was on his mind about bad drivers he encountered on the street. He read us a trolley related passage to kill some time while we were laying over in the loop, and he conversed frequently and publicly with his conductor. He also told us that this may be the Vintage Trolley's last year in service as the city would like to eliminate it. Currently running on Sundays only, it has been in service since 1991. For the first 19 of its 20 years, it ran along the MAX east-west tracks, over the Steel Bridge, and to a dedicated layover track at Lloyd Center. The need for more capacity over the Steel Bridge with the advent of the MAX Green Line caused the Vintage Trolley route to be shifted to the Portland Mall tracks. Between 2001 and 2005, a second Vintage Trolley route also operated on the Portland Streetcar tracks.

Portland Vintage Trolley conductor points something out to our right. The Vintage Trolley does not charge a fare, however donations are accepted. With our great crew and the smooth ride, many of us did give something as we got off at the same place we had boarded 40 minutes ago. Then we walked across the street to reboard the Portland Streetcar to return to the South Waterfront and dinner. For two blocks, both the southbound MAX and southbound Portland Streetcar run on SW 5th Avenue, albeit on separate tracks.

Chapter 3.8: Portland Streetcar, PSU/SW 5th & Mill to SW Lowell & Bond

It was roughly a ten minute wait for the next Portland Streetcar. Once rolling along now familiar trackage, it was a ten minute trip until we were back at the line's southernmost station, SW Lowell & Bond. From there we walked a short distance to our dinner location, the Old Spaghetti Factory.

Chapter 3.9: Dinner at Old Spaghetti Factory

Our first Portland dinner at Old Spaghetti Factory. Our dinner stop at Portland's branch of the Old Spaghetti Factory was chosen not only as a departure from steak dinners, but also because of its proximity to the end of the Portland Streetcar as well as the Willamette Shore Trolley we thought we would have been able to ride. Steve had called in advance a few days before leaving Chicago, to reserve a table for 12 people. It was waiting for us upon our arrival, albeit a little earlier than everyone had expected. One waitress handled our table and our request for separate checks very well, and got us out of there in about an hour.

Chapter 3.10: End of Sunday's activities

After dinner, we boarded the next Portland Streetcar. The majority went as far as PSU Urban Center, where they switched to a northbound MAX train on SW 6th Avenue to get to their downtown hotels. Rick and I remained aboard the Streetcar to Central Library, where we then took an eastbound MAX Red Line train to our hotels in the airport area. With a full day in Portland lying ahead, and many having come off a transcontinental train trip, sleep came easily.

Chapter 4: Monday, July 19, 2010

Monday was our TriMet day. We would cover all four MAX light rail lines in their entirety, and also the new suburb to suburb WES commuter rail line.

Chapter 4.0: Meeting in Portland

As I left my hotel to head downtown to meet up with the group, I got a text message from Bill, who was on the MAX Red Line on his way to the airport. By coincidence, just as I left my hotel to begin the long walk to the Mount Hood Avenue station, Bill's train passed me by, and he saw me waving at his train. Bill had an uneventful and quick flight back to Philadelphia. Also leaving the group was Chris, who had left town on a red eye flight to return to work. Lynn decided to forego the rail activities on Monday and spent some "Me" time in Portland. That left 10 of us to ride the rails.

Our meeting location would be the Pioneer Place station on the Portland Mall. A few of us got there early, and walked around the downtown area. Just by chance, Piotr, Rick, and I happened to meet near Pioneer Square after coming from three different directions. We conversed briefly and then continued our respective walks. I also checked out the Pioneer Place Mall, just to locate its food court in the event we wished to dine there later. (We never did!) By about 9:10 AM, all ten of us were in place at the station and ready to see Portland from the windows of MAX and WES trains.

Chapter 4.1: TriMet MAX Yellow Line, Pioneer Place to PSU/SW 5th & Mill

We really didn't need to ride this first segment of the line, since we had unexpectedly done so the previous day on the Vintage Trolley. But it was part of our planned activities, and we had the time, so off we went! We left southbound on a MAX Yellow Line train on time at 9:18 AM. Just four minutes later we were getting off at the final stop at SW 5th & Mill in the PSU complex.

My itinerary allowed us 18 minutes to walk across the PSU plaza to SW 6th Avenue. MAX runs on a steady 15 minute headway most of the time, so having crossed the plaza in a couple of minutes, we were able to catch a northbound Yellow Line train just three minutes after we got off the last one.

Chapter 4.2: TriMet MAX Yellow Line, PSU/SW 6th & Montgomery to Expo Center

We were now 15 minutes ahead of schedule. Our trip to Expo Center left SW 6th & Montgomery at 9:25 AM, and we were on our way. The Yellow Line runs along Portland Mall with the Green Line, and then they curve sharply east at Union Station and merge with the older tracks that carry the MAX Blue Line and Red Line trains. All four lines run together over the Steel Bridge, and then in the Rose Quarter the Yellow Line branches off to the north to run in the median of Interstate Avenue. The line remains on this street until just before it ends at Expo Center, near the Columbia River and the Oregon/Washington border. If the dispute over the new Columbia River I-5 Bridge is settled, this line will most likely continue northward into Vancouver, WA.

At Expo Center we alighted at 10:00 AM. Although one train ahead of the schedule, this trip had been due to arrive at 9:56. We found another train preparing to leave on the adjacent track, so we all went across and boarded just in time.

Chapter 4.3: TriMet MAX Yellow Line, Expo Center to Interstate/Rose Quarter

The 10 of us were now headed inbound just three minutes after arriving at Expo Center. An uneventful trip brought us to our next transfer point, Interstate/Rose Quarter, at 10:23 AM. As mentioned before, the Yellow Line splits from the others just west of the Rose Quarter Transit Center. Besides many bus bays, there are two different light rail locations. The Yellow Line uses two side platforms on Interstate Avenue, while the remaining lines stop at a main station with multiple platforms located on Holladay Street underneath an I-5 freeway overpass. To make this transfer requires crossing several streets.

Chapter 4.4: TriMet MAX Red Line, Rose Quarter to Portland International Airport

Remarkably, we accomplished the walk in several minutes, and made the next Red Line train. We left Rose Quarter Transit Center at 10:28 AM, still running 15 minutes ahead of our plans.

Between Rose Quarter Transit Center and Gateway Transit Center, the MAX Red Line runs on the original trunk line along the north side of the Banfield Expressway (I-84). At Gateway Transit Center, adjacent to the junction of I-84 and I-205, the trunk line turns to face south. Right after the station, the Red Line branches off to the right on a steep, single track loop and turns to the north to run next to I-205. It soon fans back out to two tracks for the rest of the trip, and has one station in the freeway's median (Parkrose-Sumner Transit Center) before it turns northwest towards the airport. It stops at the Cascades and Mount Hood Avenue stations, two locations that are being developed with retail, office parks, and hotels.

At the airport, we decided to partake of our planned 16-minute break so that folks could use the facilities. We remained 15 minutes ahead of our planned itinerary.

Chapter 4.5: TriMet MAX Red Line, Portland International Airport to Gateway Transit Center

It was 11:12 AM as we resumed our travels. This time we were retracing our previous ride back to the Gateway Transit Center. Once there, we got off and crossed to the outbound side to wait for our next conveyance, an outbound Green Line train.

Chapter 4.6: TriMet MAX Green Line, Gateway Transit Center to Clackamas Town Center

Departing from Gateway Transit Center at 11:32 AM, we ran due south from the station along the east side of I-205, but we soon crossed underneath to the west side of the freeway, and stayed on that side for the remainder of the trip. The Green Line runs on a right-of-way that was included in the infrastructure when the freeway was built.

We got off at the last stop, Clackamas Town Center, adjacent to the large regional shopping mall by the same name. Still 15 minutes early, the time was 11:48 AM. However we were more than ready for lunch!

Chapter 4.7: Lunch at Clackamas Town Center

At Clackamas Town Center we walked over to the mall proper, and once inside found its large food court. A long table tailor made for our large group was available, so we grabbed it and then took turns getting our lunches.

Evaluating our day's timekeeping thus far, we looked ahead to our activities and devised an updated plan. We were 15 minutes early, with the potential to be 30 minutes early if we didn't partake of all the time the original schedule allotted for this break. We therefore decided to do our Blue Line run out to Hillsboro first, and then ride WES on the way back. (WES was originally slated to be done first, followed by Hillsboro.) A big reason for this decision was that WES starts running for the evening rush hour at 4:05 PM, and being early we would have had to wait around Beaverton a long time for that first run.

We did in fact make it back to the MAX station in enough time to catch the 12:57 PM Green Line trip, so we were half an hour ahead of schedule. Thus the new plan would be in effect later on.

Chapter 4.8 TriMet MAX Green Line, Clackamas Town Center to Gateway Transit Center

Once again our destination was the Gateway Transit Center, which we got to at 1:15 PM. This was another 6 minute transfer at the facility. We did the same exact transfer, walking from the inbound platform to the outbound. The eastern segment of the Blue Line was on tap next.

Chapter 4.9: TriMet MAX Blue Line, Gateway Transit Center to Cleveland Avenue, Gresham

The Blue Line between downtown Portland and Gresham was the system's original line, having opened in the summer of 1986. After leaving Gateway Transit Center, it turns east and runs in the median of NE Burnside Street for several miles. Just past the Ruby Junction station which is approximately on the border of Portland and Gresham, the line leaves Burnside and runs on its own right-of-way for the remainder of its trip. South of the tracks right after the split from Burnside is TriMet's Ruby Junction Maintenance Facility, a 17-acre campus of buildings and a rail yard. It services the MAX Green Line, Yellow Line, and some of the Blue Line. This facility also houses the TriMet command center, which oversees all of the bus and rail operations.

Our group, having left Gateway at 1:21 PM, arrived at the end of the line at Gresham's Cleveland Avenue station 22 minutes later. There we detrained and boarded another vehicle across the platform.

Chapter 4.10: TriMet MAX Blue Line, Cleveland Avenue, Gresham to Hatfield Government Center, Hillsboro

We left Cleveland Avenue at 1:55 PM, on what turned out to be an end-to-end trip. With our new plan, we knew this would be a marathon that was scheduled to last one hour 40 minutes. Going through downtown, our trip was delayed by traffic, so our trip would be even longer.

MAX light rail vehicle on the Blue Line to Hillsboro. The big feature of the Westside Blue Line is the three-mile-long Robertson Tunnel just outside of downtown Portland. Once out of the tunnel, the line winds alongside a couple of freeways to Beaverton, and then heads west to Hillsboro along an old railroad right of way. Although the Westside MAX opened in 1998, there are still signs of transit oriented development around many of the stations, particularly in the Beaverton area.

Between the Merlo Road and Elmonica stations in Beaverton, on the north side of the tracks, is another maintenance facility, known as Elmonica Yard. This yard opened along with the Westside MAX line to take the load off Ruby Junction. It services the Red Line and the other half of the Blue Line trains.

We finally got to the Hatfield Government Center station in Hillsboro at 3:44 PM, nine minutes late for this trip. Another train was sitting across the platform almost ready to leave, and we all hurried across to board it.

Chapter 4.11: TriMet MAX Blue Line Hatfield Government Center, Hillsboro to Beaverton Transit Center

At 3:46 PM we were on our way inbound once more on another Blue Line train. We had spent a mere two minutes at the Hillsboro endpoint station! The trip inbound was uneventful and on schedule, as we arrived at the Beaverton Transit Center at 4:17 PM.

This gave us plenty of time to walk over to the WES platform. Some of us purchased some snacks or cold drinks along the way. At 4:25 PM the train arrived from the south, and we got on it.

Chapter 4.12: TriMet WES, Beaverton Transit Center to Wilsonville

WES DMU train arrives in Beaverton to pick us up. Our train happened to be the only true DMU operating that day. Although we had boarded what was the trailer car, in the southbound direction we would be shoved by the power car behind us.

The 27-minute trip began when we left the Beaverton station at 4:35 PM, and entered a small segment of street running. Because the Portland & Western RR tracks do not come directly into the Beaverton Transit Center, a connecting track was built in the middle of SW Lombard Avenue. Running is slow as the train negotiates several busy intersections before it leaves Lombard to connect with the P&W freight track.

The line is mostly single track. Some of the stations have gauntlet tracks to allow P&W freights to pass the high level platforms without clipping them. At the Tigard Transit Center, there are two tracks with an island platform in between them. The half hourly trips are scheduled to leave from both ends of the line so that they meet here. Indeed a northbound train arrived as we did, but it consisted of just a powered car.

On the WES platform in Wilsonville. On a double track section about two minutes before coming to the end of the line in Wilsonville, we passed another train, also a single car. We arrived in Wilsonville right on time at 5:02 PM. Most took a sorely needed rest room break, and then explored the station. The Wilsonville station hosts the bus routes of several transit agencies other than TriMet, including those in Canby, Wilsonville, and Salem.

Alaska RR equipment on WES property in Wilsonville. The WES yard sits to the east of the station. We saw on the property the two Alaska Railroad cars that TriMet bought to protect its service in case of equipment breakdowns. Our train's crew walked to the yard after we arrived, and got back in time to staff our northbound trip on the same equipment. Our layover was 26 minutes.

Continued in next section

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