Conga line

Westbound trains were delayed Friday due to a switch issue by Beaverton Transit Center. There are three power switches to get into or out of the pocket track from the east, and the one farthest to the left in that picture was not throwing properly, so rail supervisors were on scene to manually throw the switch and direct trains safely through the area. I was off work and downtown when all of this was going on and from what I could see the operators were doing everything they could – getting on the PA to announce the reason for the delay and apologize for the inconvenience. Surprisingly, given how backed up everything was, no official service alert was released. Of course, people weren’t happy about the delay or being stopped for a while only to proceed up to the next platform and then stop again.

Not a great time to be operating, but a good topic for blogging…

Things were very backed up – this conga line of trains at every platform on Morrison is the result of that issue way out by BTC. If you look closely, you can see there is a Type 4 up at Galleria, then another train at Pioneer, then this train next to me at the Mall/5th platform, and another train behind it at 3rd/Morrison.

A common complaint I was hearing was that passengers didn’t understand why the trains were stopped where they were – can’t they keep moving, even if slowly? There are a couple of reasons why trains were holding where they were. One: stopping away from platforms is something to avoid whenever possible. Passengers can get a little agitated and uncomfortable being on a train that isn’t moving, and it’s dangerous for them to pull the emergency door release to leave the train away from a platform – first because that can likely put them in the path of a train coming in the other direction or vehicle traffic (depending on your location), and second because even the low-floor train cars have a drop to the ground if you’re not at a platform. So it’s preferable for stopped trains to hold at platforms with their doors open or on release which allows people to leave the train safely.

Two: west of Goose Hollow is ABS territory. To review:

ABS diagramDiagram of ABS signals

The direction of travel is from left to right. On the top part of the image, a green signal indicates that there are two open blocks (that is, the space between the signal in front of you and the signal after that one, AND the space between that signal and the one after it both are clear of trains). In the middle part of the image, the yellow signal indicates that there is one open block between  you and the train in front of you. The bottom part with a red signal indicates that the train in front of you is in that block. If the block in front of you is occupied, you CANNOT proceed into it. The block system and associated ATS magnets work to keep the trains spaced at a safe distance and prevent collisions.

So even though there appears to be more than adequate space for all of these trains to have rolled through downtown and waited behind each other on the alignment just east of Beaverton TC to proceed through, multiple trains cannot safely occupy the same ABS block. Additionally, since it’s safest to have the trains holding at platforms whenever possible, it’s better to have the trains stacked up here than at each ABS signal along the west side where there is no safe way for people to exit the train if they’re not at a platform.

Conga line of trains proceeding through downtown, monitored by supervisors

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13 responses to “Conga line

  1. Just curious, what time did this take place and how long did it take signal personnel to get to the location to repair the problem with the switch? The reason I ask is there was recently (March 4th) a significant change in the location of signal personnel on the system. Prior to the changes signal personnel were present from Monday – Friday 6am to 5:30 pm stationed at Ruby Junction and Downtown on the west side of the river. Now all signals personnel are stationed at Ruby Junction. The potential for extended response times to repair equipment failures on the west side of the alignment is much greater due to the change.

    • I’m not positive but I think it started around 3:30pm or so, and they got there maybe around 7ish? I could be wrong about that… If anyone does know for certain please feel free to correct. What you’re saying does explain the delay!

  2. Kudos to the operator on train 01 Friday night. I boarded at SW 3rd & Morrison, and he did a great job keeping us appraised of the situation. He would let us know when we were getting ready to leave each platform as well. My 45-minute ride turned into a 90-minute trip, but we knew what was going on, so it was bearable.

  3. This was posted on my blog but needs to here too:
    ———————–
    Michael Conner (Light rail signal tech)
    Direct result of dum as* manager of Maintenance of Way putting 60+% of track and signal techs on graveyard. Now crews are pis*ed and mostly will not take call-ins anymore.

  4. So if the stated timeline is correct we might have expected a 15- 20 minute response time typically in the past (Elmo to BTC). Just another example of excellent management decisions on the part of TriMet. Clearly moving the public in a safe and timely manner is not the top priority of management .

  5. I’m curious why they don’t just run the red line trains to the next crossover. Wouldn’t that have been faster for everyone?

    • Not necessarily – that would be another half hour or so of travel to get up to Willow Creek and back, plus this would be confusing for passengers (and since there’s no pocket track there, if the operator needed a comfort break that would involve leaving the train on the mainline which would still impact movement).

      • What about shortening the Red Line to 11th Ave for the duration, couldn’t that have helped eliminate some of the back up?

        • I think some trains may have been turned around at 11th Ave in this particular situation but I’m not sure. It’s definitely been done before. One of the many factors taken into consideration for situations like these is getting operators back on their time as closely as possible, especially if this was a relief trip. That’s not always possible depending on the severity of the situation (e.g. I’ve known it to happen where operators heading east to their relief at Gateway end up getting sent all the way west to Hatfield) but there are a lot of factors that influence how decisions like turning back trains are made.

          • Another factor that plays in to how these situations are handled is who the controller is at the time. We have a good team up there but some are quite simply better than others at seeing the big picture while effectively managing such situations.

            • Very true – e.g. some are immediately on the ball to ask a train to hold at a platform as soon as it’s determined that the train in front of it is having a police/mechanical issue; in other cases it’s up to the operator to ask “Should I hold?”

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