Shortsighted

Via Portland Afoot – TriMet’s proposed cuts to save money on the upcoming light rail line to Milwaukie.

Relevant to my interests -

  • Deleting ice caps on overhead caternary system: $1.1 million
  • Deleting track switch heaters: $1 million

I want to say that I can’t believe TriMet would seriously be so shortsighted to think that ice caps and switch heaters are a design feature that can be cut from the Orange Line Milwaukie light rail project to save money, but sadly of course I can. This isn’t the first time and it’s not going to be the last that there is a disconnect the size of Russia between the people who plan these things and the frontline workers (and riders!) that actually have to deal with the fallout of bad decision making.

Never mind the fact that TriMet spent $1,510,000 of stimulus money installing switch heaters and ice caps after the snow storm a few winters ago shut down sections of the alignment for days. Remember that?

Switches freezing at Gateway, ice building upon the overhead, trains not running on any kind of predictable schedule with bus bridge operators doing their best to get through it and haul around people who can’t opt to work from home in inclement weather?

Yet somehow that’s all in the distant past, so snow and ice measures are optional enough to float as proposed cuts to the Milwaukie rail project?

I also saw in the list of cuts that the art budget is going to be reduced by 10%, saving $320,000. Look, instead of needing to retrofit the alignment with critical features like switch heaters, how about we hold off on the art for now and retrofit that later instead? I’m not anti-art, I think in a lot of cases it can be pretty useful in that it can act as a graffiti deterrent on platforms. But does it add the same value to the line as things that will actually keep the trains running? Of course not.

On top of that there is also the planned reduction of bike parking from 460 spots to 413. No other details are given, so I don’t know if that means bike staples, lockers, or more bike and rides. If it’s the latter, can we please give up on that, after the not-really-a-smashing-success the one at Sunset has been? Two months after it opened and I’ve never seen more than 4 bikes in it at once.

But no, in their lack of concern for actual function, consideration is being given to removing aspects of the rail alignment that will keep it running during snowstorms.  Hey, maybe they should incorporate that into the Milwaukie Light Rail tag line!  How about

Milwaukie Light Rail

Enjoy it in the warmer months because when it snows you’ll be taking a bus anyway!

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10 responses to “Shortsighted

  1. Seems like it’s a question of whether the reduced funding will be a showstopper or not. Why cancel the entire project just because you can’t guarantee service on the couple of days a year of bad weather?

    Certainly it will be inconvenient to install the switch heaters and ice caps retroactively after more funding becomes available. However, the Feds are about ready to finance this line at 50% NOW. It would be really stupid for TriMet to say no thanks, we’ll get back to you later. (Speaking of Russia, Portland is not Moscow, weather-wise!)

    • I think you misunderstood my post. It’s not about canceling the entire project, but rather I’m concerned that switch heaters and ice caps – which were deemed important enough to spend stimulus money on because of the impact they had (or rather, their lack of presence had) on winter service – are among the factors that are up for removal to get the line opened. Sure, not putting them in would save money in the short term, but it would also save money if TriMet decided to put only one streetlight per platform – or even none at all! I mean hey, on the Green Line 205 alignment, trains don’t run between 1 and 4am – we don’t need to have lights on the platforms then, and passengers traveling at night can just carry flashlights or something.

      But that would be a bad decision to make, and I think that leaving out something critical to winter weather operations is also a bad decision. How much more is it going to cost to retrofit those when we inevitably decide we need them? I can agree with a lot of the other proposals on the list that Portland Afoot posted, but not those.

  2. He he – great point! Why the heck would they cut something that sooner or later they will have to install anyway? Sigh…

    No further comments needed – your post says it all!

  3. Fell behind on my RSS and missed this, O Camelopardalis — glad the information was useful. And sorry TriMet hasn’t been listening to your warnings yet. I fear you’re right.

  4. Two months isn’t long enough for transportation infrastructure (bike parking) to show value.

    • True, but I’m looking at the Milwaukie line in very basic terms – namely, what factors/features of this project contribute to the forward motion of the trains? As nice as it would be to have beautiful artwork, spacious park & rides, and sure, even fancy enclosed bike & rides if money were no object, money *is* an object here. And since none of those things contribute to keeping the trains moving, those seem to be among the first things that can be compromised (no art, smaller park & rides, and traditional staples & lockers for cyclists).

  5. Unfortunately,
    Switch heaters may melt snow and ice to some extent, but the real problem in girder rail operation is the rocks,sand and gravel the city puts on the roads. Trains push the snow and gravel ahead like a bulldozer and it falls into the switches.This rock debris gets into the switch point and won’t allow it to make up to the stock rail. Autos drive over the switches and pack the ice and debris into the points. All the heat in the world won’t melt rocks.On a signalized switch, a gap of 1/4 inch or more produces a red signal. In fact there is a chemical switch deicing fluid that works very well to prevent freezing without the great expense of switch heaters. I used It at PSC which has no heaters in the 08 snow storms and rarely had problems with freezing and they never shutdown because of frozen switch problems. When the weather is very cold, ice builds up in the girder and will actually lift the tire off the track, far from any switches causing wheel spin and loss of movement. Switch heaters help the guy doing the work in the field, but aren’t the only answer. They are just a tool in the toolbox. Nothing will replace the workers in the field .

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