Expansion of the Portland MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) light rail system continues apace. The next phase, due to open in 2009, will add a fourth route.
MAX, a 44-mile light rail system with 64 stations, runs east and west from Portland and connects the cities of Gresham, Beaverton and Hillsboro. A new Airport MAX extension provides direct service between downtown Portland and the Portland International Airport (PDX).
The system has been built in four segments. Eastside MAX Blue Line, opened in 1986, stretches 15 miles eastward to Gresham, and the Westside MAX Blue Line, opened in 1998, runs 18 miles west to Hillsboro. The $125m Airport MAX Red Line, opened in September 2001, runs 5.5 miles northwest from Gateway Transit Center to PDX airport.
The new $350m Interstate MAX Yellow Line, a 5.8-mile segment, connects the Expo Center in North Portland with downtown and the rest of the transit system.
The latest project to be pushed forward is the two-part I-205/Portland Mall MAX. The first is the 6.5-mile I-205 route which will bring high-capacity transit to Clackamas Country, Milwaukie and Southest Portland with a new route alongside Interstate 205. The second part is the Portland Mall extension, which will allow direct connections along the full length of the Mall and to Union Station and Portland State University. The 8.3-mile extension will be known as Green Line.
Portland’s light rail network is operated by the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (Tri-Met). It has been charged with devising a suitable light rail network to attract new development without bringing a disproportionate growth in road traffic.
The first phase, Eastside MAX, connected Gresham, Oregon state’s fourth largest city, with downtown Portland, and was constructed between 1982-86. Between 1990-97 Tri-Met ridership grew 40% faster than its population growth.
Initial planning for the Westside was completed in 1979 with a tentative route (following the Sunset Highway) selected in 1983. The three-mile central tunnel section, which contains the deepest rapid transit station in North America, took nearly four years to complete and was fraught with problems.
Airport MAX is a $125m, 5.5-mile extension developed through an innovative public/private venture involving the Port of Portland, Tri-Met, the City of Portland, Portland Development Commission and Bechtel Enterprises.
In return, a 120-acre transit-oriented development is being built at the airport entrance, aimed for completion in 2015.
Construction of the Green Line is due to begin in mid-2007. The I-205/Portland Mall project has a budget of $557m and will further MAX’s influence as a high-capacity transit system, as well as bringing more development to the Portland Mall area.
In all, 83% of riders choose Tri-Met over their car. Four-fifths of Tri-Met riders have a car, but choose to ride MAX or the bus.
Investment worth $2.4bn has occurred along the MAX line since the decision to build. In contrast to Eastside MAX, Westside MAX travels through stretches of undeveloped land, as well as the cities of Beaverton and Hillsboro. The line has become a magnet, attracting nearly 7,000 housing units and more than $500m in new transit-oriented communities within an easy walk of the stations.
Westside MAX also has a new maintenance depot, at SW 170th station, consisting of a two-story workshop which can service six cars simultaneously.
Airport MAX provides direct service between Portland International Airport and downtown Portland. This route was subsequently extended in 2003 by 8 miles to the Beaverton Transit Centre, allowing more direct connections to the Airport MAX station, which is just 150ft from the baggage claim. The trip downtown takes 38 minutes. In 2006, ridership on the Airport MAX passed the one million mark, an 11% increase on 2005.
The MAX system was expanded to 44 miles in May 2004 when the Interstate MAX opened, four months ahead of schedule. This 5.8 mile line (Yellow Line) carried 3.9 million passengers in its first year from the 10 stations on the route.
The Yellow Line runs between Expo Center and Rose Quarter in North Portland, with trains traveling through downtown Portland. Trains operate every 10 minutes during rush hour. The trip between the end of the line at the Expo Center in North Portland and Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland takes 30 minutes.
Portland MAX owns three types of articulated light rail car for use on the Eastside and Westside lines. The first was a batch of 26 from Bombardier built between 1984 and 1986 with a seating capacity of 256. These vehicles now operate with either Type 2 or Type 3 vehicles because they do not have low floor entrances.
The Type 2 SD-600 light rail vehicle entered traffic with Portland MAX in 1997 and a total of 52 were built by Siemens. They feature low floor access and were introduced primarily for the Westside line.
In 2002 an order for 27 Type 3 SD-660 light rail vehicles were ordered to operate the new Yellow Line service (opened in 2004) with 10 vehicles from the order allocated for additional traffic growth on all lines. These Type 3 light rail vehicles also feature low floor access and can accommodate up to 268 passengers.
All the vehicles employed on Portland MAX have a maximum speed of 55mph.
The latest order for new light rail vehicles has been placed with Siemens’ Sacramento factory. The $75m order is for 21 S70 Avanto light rail vehicles, with an option for three more. To operate on the I-205/Portland Mall MAX, they will be 70% low-floor three section cars with 76 seats per set. The S70s will also feature single cabs and will run in pairs at a maximum speed of 55mph.
Signalling and communications
Trams are one-man operated and ‘driver-sight’ control is employed at all but the busiest junctions, where a series of multiple-aspect color lights are coordinated with the road signals.
Following the opening of the Yellow Line, the next project is the 6.5-mile Green Line. This new route will connect the Portland Mall area with Union Station, Portland University and Clackamas centre, running alongside Interstate 205 for 6.5 miles of its route.
The Green Line will have 15 new stations, and around 2,000 additional Park and Ride parking spaces. The project has been allocated a budget of $557m and is expected to attract around 46,000 riders per day from opening.
The project will also require track to be laid on Fifth and Sixth Avenues between Union station and Portland State University as part of a renovation of the existing Transit Mall. These tracks will be used by both Green Line and Yellow Line trains.
In 2004 the MAX system carried 31.9 million passengers, and the Eastside MAX carried 199 million passengers in 19 years, whilst the Westside MAX has carried 62 million passengers since completion.