Monthly Archives: April 2011

Barcelona, 1908

And now for something completely different.

Similar to the San Francisco, 1906 post, this has nothing to do with MAX light rail, but I think this sort of thing is really interesting. This is video shot from a streetcar in Barcelona in 1908, but I don’t know any of the historical context beyond that.

I like the part a little over 4 minutes in where the streetcar with our point of view is stopped so that an oncoming one on the same track can diverge off. I wonder what their protocols or scheduling for moves like that were like. First come first served maybe?

Again, it’s interesting to see how over 100 years ago people were still walking, cycling, and driving their horse & carriages in front of oncoming rail vehicles. Well, fewer horses nowadays, but even so.

Improving transit speed part 2 – Holladay

A continuation of the last improving transit speed post, which is building off of the discussion over at Portland Transport, and now specifically focusing on people’s suggestions for speeding up travel time along NE Holladay. I hope this provides something of an operational perspective as to why some things are the way they are and that might prove to be a hindrance in redesigning platform placement. These are not necessarily insurmountable obstacles, but are, at the very least, obstacles that prevent any of the suggestions from the Portland Transport post from being enacted immediately.

NE 7th Ave and OCC

Courtesy of Portland Transport, here are weekday passenger counts for eastbound stops on Holladay during fall 2010 (westbound not listed but they’re pretty comparable):

Rose Quarter—–1,207—1,035
Convention Ctr.—–433—–595
NE 7th—————396—–764
Lloyd Center——1,000—1,830

Given those lower passenger counts compared to RQ and Lloyd Center, many people have put forth the argument that Convention Center and NE 7th could be closed to speed up travel time on Holladay without severe impact to passengers.

Not permanently…

However, both of those platforms serve an important purpose on Holladay – not so much for passenger loading, but rather as a necessity to travel along this section of the alignment. The short explanation is that those platforms are needed to call signals/switches on Holladay. The long explanation: keep reading.

For one thing, trains at all stops along Holladay need to call the pre-empt signals to proceed, which will then cascade into the next platform. But OCC & NE 7th have an additional complication. The alignment on Holladay from just past Rose Quarter to just before Lloyd Center is between two sets of switches. On the west (click for map), there’s a crossover as well as switches to diverge into the special events track, westbound main, or trolley barn at Rose Quarter. On the eastern side, there are switches to diverge a train into (or out of) the Doubletree Siding. Going back to my earlier posts on signal types, since all of these switches are in pre-empt territory, they are associated with ABS/pre-empt combination signals and are protected by ATS magnets.

Let’s start with the switches into the Doubletree Siding on the eastern side.

NE 7th Ave

Looking east from NE 7th

The above picture (click for larger) shows what an eastbound train at NE 7th sees. Of interest is combination signal 20A immediately prior to the Lloyd Center platform. The zoom lens makes it look closer than it really is – a better perspective (though not as clear of a photo) is this old picture from when NE 7th was where trains would switch radio channels to Main 1 or Main 3. In that linked photo, 20A is the red light at NE 11th.

In this above photo, you can see that the intersection at 9th is has a permissive white vertical pre-empt. Now look down to NE 11th at the combination signal 20A, which is displaying a yellow horizontal. This informs the operator of an eastbound train at 7th that the power switch that can diverge a train into the Doubletree Siding is aligned to continue east, but 11th is not pre-empted yet. 20A will time out back to a red after a minute, which reactivates the magnet until the next train calls it.

Approaching Lloyd Center, eastbound.
ATS magnet visible in foreground, white vertical on 20A in background.

When 20A is red, that ATS magnet will stop an eastbound train before it gets to the intersection at NE 11th. Therefore, 20A must be called by a train before it can proceed through 11th into the Lloyd Center platform, but it needs a place to call 20A from. Rolling calls, or in other words, pressing the call button as you move over a call loop without stopping, are a poor practice. Trains should be at a complete stop over a call loop to call a signal, so there needs to be some place for a train to stop prior to NE 11th to call 20A, and that purpose is served by the NE 7th platform. When placing the call at 7th, rail operators will look down to 20A from there and make sure it drops from a red before proceeding.

The NE 7th platform is needed for trains to go east to ensure that the switches for Doubletree are properly set, so 7th doesn’t work as a stop that can be closed or skipped since a train will have to stop there anyway to call 20A. (Plus 710 NE Holladay right by the platform at NE 7th is a TriMet building, so it’s unlikely that front-door MAX service is going to go away from there.)

Then over at Oregon Convention Center…

Oregon Convention Center (OCC)

West from Convention Center

Looking at OCC on the western side of the Holladay alignment, there are two combination signals that affect train movement from OCC to into Rose Quarter: 18A and 18B.

Signal 18A is located on the corner of NE Holladay & 2nd for westbound trains. It is associated with switches 13A, 11C, and 11D and the ATS magnet (visible in the above picture as the little yellow square) on the opposite corner of NE 2nd. If any of those switches are not properly set for a westbound move from OCC or if there is a conflicting move in progress – for example, a vintage trolley coming out of the trolley barn or turnbacks like last weekend’s streetcar work, 18A will remain red and a westbound train will be tripped at the ATS magnet. To proceed through here, 18A needs to be called by westbound trains from a platform (remember, no rolling calls), which is why OCC is needed.

West from OCC, 18B visible (displaying a red aspect, click for larger and look on the Rose Quarter platform)

Way down there by the Rose Quarter special events platform is signal 18B, an ABS/pre-empt combination signal that routes a train into the westbound main (click for a more up-close picture of 18B), the special events track, or the trolley barn. Like 18A, 18B is called by westbound trains from OCC, and both need to drop from reds before a train can continue west into Rose Quarter. 18B doesn’t have an ATS magnet of its own (the magnet at 2nd for signal 18A will stop a train before it gets near 18B) but this signal is still necessary for route selection. Both 18A and 18B will time out back to reds and will need to be called by the next westbound train, ensuring that the switches are properly set and there are no conflicting moves by other trains. As a result, OCC is another platform that can’t be skipped or closed because westbound trains need a platform to call 18A and 18B from. Similar to NE 7th, since trains have to stop here anyway to call the signals, they may as well service the platform.

White vertical on 18A, yellow horizontal on 18B

So can either of these stops be closed, moved, etc? Not easily.. NE 7th eastbound and OCC westbound are currently necessary to call their respective ABS/pre-empt combination signals to ensure switch alignment/no conflicting moves by other trains. And while their corresponding westbound and eastbound platforms don’t have combination signals, operators will still call for pre-empt signals to proceed from there. At present, I don’t really see a way to avoid stopping at both of these platforms despite the relatively low passenger on- and off-boarding at these locations. This isn’t to say that it can’t ever be done, but I don’t think skipping either of those platforms can be done as an immediate fix.


Still working on the improving transit speed follow-up post, which is getting very long and I need to either break it down into separate posts or stop being so long-winded. In either case, it’s not ready to be published yet, so here’s a quick and easy post.

Question(s): Can’t you turn the heat down? Or up? Can you turn the air conditioning off, it’s too cold in here!

Answer: Sorry, no. There’s not exactly a thermostat in the trains… let me show you what there is to work with:

 Part of the upper console of a Type 2

This one gets asked fairly frequently, especially in the spring and fall when the temperature outside fluctuates so widely. The HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system in the train turns on when the operator turns on the train’s auxiliaries (done when starting up a train to take it out of the yard) and should automatically adjust to the temperature outside. As shown in the above picture, the HVAC switch all the way over to the right lets the operator turn the HVAC off but that’s all. There are no adjustments for temperature like your car has.  You can’t even turn the HVAC back on with that switch – notice how there’s no “on” side. Once the HVAC system is off, the only way to turn it back on is by auxing the train off (the switch next to it) and auxing the train back on. This is generally only done as part of troubleshooting if the HVAC system has a fault and needs to be reset. So no, there’s not a lot that can be done with the heat or A/C for the train passengers short of simply having them on.

Improving transit speed part 1

Over at Portland Transport, EngineerScotty (also author of the Dead Horse Times) posted on improving transit speed downtown, particularly for MAX. It’s an interesting post and a lot of different ideas have come up in the comments. I was going to respond there but it got long, so I’m taking it here and breaking up my thoughts on the different suggestions that have been made.

The first of these…

Train Length

One of the constraints of MAX brought up in the post is train length – Portland city blocks are about 200 feet, and a two-car consist is about 184 feet (191 feet if it’s a Type 4). All lines run through downtown, so the system is designed around that 200′ maximum length for trains. Early on in the thread, one commenter asked why we couldn’t run a train that’s twice as long (a four-car consist rather than the two-car consists run now) – even if it blocked a street while it serviced a stop, it wouldn’t be there long and this would double the capacity of service.

Dead Car PushThe exception, not the rule

Mechanically speaking and not taking anything like platforms into consideration, the cars are capable of being coupled together in consists longer than a two-car train. I haven’t really posted about how cars are coupled aside from answering questions in comments, but the trains are coupled in two ways: a mechanical couple and an electrical couple. The mechanical couple is what physically holds the cars together; the electrical couple is what lets the cars talk to each other. For example, this allows the operator to hit the door open button and have all the doors in the train open, not just the doors in the car that the operator is sitting in (this is called “trainlined” and yes, that’s where the safety communication gets its name). That works if there are two cars coupled together, or three, or four. I don’t remember if more than four cars can be electronically trainlined. This does not work for Type 4s. The coupler head located under the cabs of those is there to be used for a dead car tow or push and is capable of being mechanically coupled to any car in the fleet, but there will be no electrical communication between them.

Screen shot of Bob R’s video of the A-cab coupler head

So aside from the 4s, more than two cars could be coupled together and still function. However, there are a number of reasons why it would take so much money in construction costs to run 3-car or 4-car consists to the point where it’s just not worth it.

For one, the previously-mentioned trainline opens all the doors of the train. Assuming you have a four car consist downtown, if the operator stops to service a platform (we’ll use Pioneer Square North as an example), the rear two cars are going to be blocking SW 6th and going back up the block between 5th and 6th. When that operator opens the doors, all of the doors in the train are going to open, and remember that even on the low-floor cars, there’s a drop to the ground below when not at a platform:

Climbing into a Type 2 from the ground

So that would be opening the train doors onto the street, and even for people not using mobility devices, that’s not a comfortable way to get on or off the train. And to lengthen all of the platforms in the system to accommodate longer trains would be prohibitively expensive (just the Washington Park stop alone would be a logistical and financial nightmare)

There’s also the matter of what to do when the train gets to the end of the line.

In the Jackson turnaround

Here at Jackson St, which is currently the end of the line for Yellow and Green trains, the first and third tracks are big enough to accommodate a two-car train, but nothing larger. The circuits in the turnaround are only big enough for one two-car train. I took this picture from the leading car looking back toward the trailing car, and the last wheel axle of the trailing car is just past the insulated joint on the eastern entrance to the turnaround. And the center track can only accommodate a single car train, such as the mall shuttle. In short (pun not really intended), there’s no room for a train longer than two cars here.

So that means no four-car consists on the Yellow-Greens, which is good because that would make things much more difficult for buses driving on the transit mall. What about on the Blue line? Cleveland has a tail track, so there actually is room at the east end of the line in Gresham. Heading out to the west side though, there’s a lack of space. Here’s a view of the platforms at Hatfield Gov Center, the western terminus of the Blue line:

Western end of the Blue Line

As Hatfield is now, there’s no room for a train longer than two cars – to lengthen the platforms would mean shutting down Main Street which runs behind the building there.

It’s not just a lack of space and platforms big enough to accommodate them that that make it impractical to run longer consists.

Paradoxically, longer trains would actually mean slower running speeds in many sections of the alignments. At Goose Hollow (above), for example, the speed limit around that curve for eastbound trains is 10mph, and a train can’t accelerate until the entire consist is clear of the curve. You get thrown around quite a bit if you’re near the back of a trailing car going around a curve and the operator accelerates before you’re out of the curve.  If the trains were twice as long as they are now, that’s waiting until another 200′ of train has gotten through a curve before the train can accelerate.

In other places, gravity would work against longer trains. For example, heading into the tunnel westbound, the speed limit is 55mph past the first cross passage. As things are now, if your train is a two car consist with a crush load of people, it’s hard to get to 55mph since you’re climbing a hill with all that weight. If you’ve got twice as many cars and people, it’ll run even slower. Longer trains might mean more capacity, but ultimately they’d mean slower running speeds.

So it’s an interesting idea to run longer trains, but it would involve so much construction to existing platforms, major modifications to city blocks in the CBD, to say nothing of the work involved in changing the circuits in the rails to accommodate longer trains that it’s not feasible to do.

More to come.

Overhaul (for real this time)

Picture for the sake of having a picture

Surprisingly, yesterday’s April Fools joke of a WES extravaganza took far longer to put together than I had anticipated, but taking it all down gave me the chance to make some style edits (both here and on my Twitter page) that I’ve been wanting to do for a while. Just getting tired of the old pics and theme, I guess. The WES post will stay up, but since I pretty much exhausted everything I knew and/or could find about WES in writing that, it’s unlikely there will be more WES content in the future.

There were some great transit-related April Fools jokes yesterday – Portland Transport becoming Portland Trainspot with a mission of posting photos of TriMet rail vehicles; Isaac Laquedem’s post on TriMet’s expansion of rail to the north, east, and south (best line in the post “We are optimistic that the Department of Transportation will approve our request for a 95% matching grant to finance track and station improvements, new rolling stock, public art, and two more fare inspectors”); over at the Oregonian Joseph Rose’s post on how MAX bicycle hooks are now reserved for passengers’ dry cleaning; and the one that made me laugh the most, Al M’s termination letter from TriMet.

Anyway, back in MAX-land here, you may have seen that I’ve added some new pages to the top header.

If you’ve been reading for a while, most of that content isn’t new except for the “When is the last train?” page.

I’ve noticed patterns in the things that people search for that land them here, and I want to make it as easy as possible for people to find the answers to what they’re looking for. The search function that WordPress provides (top of the right sidebar) is pretty thorough but sometimes yields an overwhelming amount of information, so I’m trying to make the setup here more approachable and easy to use by consolidating the links of posts related to those subjects into those pages. Any thoughts or suggestions of what else might make this site more user-friendly would be welcome.