Tag Archives: doors

Open response to an open letter

I recently saw this complaint on Planet Feedback:

Tri-Met Train Engineer Refused to Open Train Doors

Posted Sat February 5, 2011 3:03 pm, by John T. written to Mr. Neil McFarlane, General Manager, Tri-Met

I am writing to inform you of an unpleasant experience on the Yellow Max Line to Expo Center. This is the text of my Tri-Met website email complaint, which I sent on 1/28/2011:
Engineer refused to open the door (Train 123, 1:28 p.m., Thursday,1/27/2011 at SW 6th Ave. & Morrison), even though there was ample time to do so. I crossed the street from Pioneer Square as the Expo Center train was stopped at a red light. When my light changed to green, I immediately crossed the street and quickly walked right in front of the stopped train, so the engineer had to see me. I hurriedly pressed the yellow and blue buttons for the doors to open on the first car. The traffic light was still red (for the train). They did not, so I attempted to open the doors with my fingers. Seeing the doors were tight and unyielding, I immediately removed my hands and stepped back. A second or two after I had stopped trying to open the doors, the engineer said over the external speaker, “You better take your hands off that door or you will be arrested.” Those words prove he had seen me while the train was still stopped. A few seconds later, some stranger walked up to me and said he had pushed the door open buttons too in the second car, and the doors did not open. The train was still stopped as he initially spoke to me. Both myself and the stranger were casually well-dressed and very sober. Generally speaking I like Tri-Met, but this engineer was out of line and needs retraining and/or some other appropriate sanction. I wonder how many other riders he has treated so poorly.

Please investigate the matter and the Rider Complaint procedure thoroughly, which appears to be deficient and in need of revision because of the following: The Tri-Met website did not generate a case number or any email to me with a copy of my issue after I sent it on 1/28/2011. Also, since I did not receive a timely confirmation via email or telephone after 1/28/2011, I sent an email on or about 2/3/2011. On 2/4/2011 I received an email (copy enclosed) stating that my issue was reported on 1/28/2011 to the Yellow Line Manager, and that it is a “private matter” between the manager and the employee. I am not satisfied with this closed system, as there is no real accountability to the public or myself. The public is supposed to trust what occurs behind closed doors, but we are not even informed of the outcome. This does not seem fair.

I was pleased to see the comments to the letter, where several people explained that once a train has its signal, it can’t wait for more people to board. Another commenter said it’s not appropriate to release disciplinary information to the public, which I also agree with. However, as for the original complaint, I know that John T is not unique in being mad that trains don’t wait for him and even though I’ve already written about the yellow door release buttons before, now’s as good a time as any to do it again, as well as explain a little bit about how the mall signals work.

First, a basic refresher on pre-empt signals – these display a yellow horizontal which means “STOP” to a train or a white vertical which means “PROCEED WITH CAUTION”. Because of how the CBD is set up, there are a number of intersections where auto traffic will have a red light (STOP) but a train will have a white vertical – this will be the case in any intersection where a green light could potentially turn a car into the path of a train.

SW 6th & Yamhill – red light for cars, white vertical for an eastbound train, and walk sign for pedestrians

So don’t look at the auto traffic signals to determine if a train is about to move or not, because at most intersections the train isn’t following those signals. The train having a “red light” in this case is irrelevant.

Now moving on to the rest of the complaint, which is essentially “the train didn’t wait for me and reopen the doors.” Well, no – the mall is not a good place for that sort of thing. Sometimes an operator of a north or southbound train will release the doors – that is, turn on the external door buttons so that passengers can push them to open the doors and let themselves on – if they are waiting for an eastbound or westbound train to pass or for the way ahead to be clear, but once they’re ready to call the signal, the doors are closed and it’s time to go. Here’s why:

Pioneer Courthouse, SW 5th & Yamhill facing south

This is a view looking south on 5th Avenue. On the top of the pole in the middle of the picture, you can see the pre-empt signal for southbound Yellow and Green trains to PSU. It’s displaying a yellow horizontal in the picture which is the default aspect until a train calls it. Now look down 5th at each intersection – you can see the auto traffic lights that are red and green on the left side of 5th, and on the right side you can see the pre-empt signals for the trains (all yellow horizontals).

SW 5th & Yamhill, wider view.
The pre-empt signals may be easier to see in this picture

If you ride a train on 5th or 6th, you’ll notice that ideally the train will only stop at platforms, not at the intersections between platforms. This is because those pre-empts cascade – an operator will call the signal at the platform, and then the pre-empts up through the next platform are automatically timed so that when the train gets to each intersection, the pre-empt will be displaying a permissive white vertical to proceed without the operator needing to do anything. In the event that the train has to stop (e.g. a personal auto blocking the right of way, a pedestrian running in front of a train, a car or cyclist running a red light – you know, those things that never happen) each intersection also has a secondary call loop where an operator is able to recall the signal. Under normal operating conditions, the cascading signals between platforms allows for the smoothest and fastest train movement.

South end of the mall by PSU looking north up 6th Ave. Notice the pre-empt signals on the right, the curve in the rails for the train to move to the center lane, and the bus ahead pulling away from its stop

But remember that the mall isn’t just for trains. The alignment runs serpentine with buses so that the trains and buses leapfrog up and down the mall with the rails cutting over to the right every few blocks for a platform, and then back over to the center lane for the blocks that are served by buses. The auto signals on the mall are in sync with the train pre-empts, so buses will be held on a red light to let the train move through and get out of the way when the train has a permissive signal since both buses and trains share the center travel lane and cross paths to service alternating blocks.

View from above of a Yellow Line train on 5th moving into the center travel lane after servicing the Pioneer Courthouse platform in the previous block

SO – getting back to why a train can’t wait “just a few more seconds” for you and reopen the doors… when an operator calls a signal at a platform on the mall, it starts the cascade of pre-empts up to the next platform. This cascade goes through even if the train stays put where it is, which can happen if the operator reopens the doors to let late runners on and then the signal in front of them times out. This delays buses unnecessarily as they are held at red lights waiting for a train that isn’t there. As a result, not only will the train you wanted to get on be delayed, but so will a bunch of buses because you weren’t at the platform when the train’s doors were open. Preventing that from happening, quite frankly, isn’t something an operator needs to be disciplined for.

And finally, I feel the need to defend the operator of that train – I know whose run that is and they’re one of the last people I could think of that would threaten a passenger with an arrest. I’m hard pressed to believe that such a comment was even made by the operator, but I’m not surprised at the accusation. I have seen operators scapegoated for everything that goes wrong for passengers (classic example – a bus running exactly on time and someone on the bus calling their boss “Yeah, the stupid bus was late again so I’m going to be late for work.”  Hey! Not the bus operator’s fault you picked a later bus than you needed. Take responsibility for your own actions.)

Yes, about those TriMet “Open door” buttons…

You know, I have other drafts in the works, but I keep getting sidetracked by current events.

Old picture, but a good one.  Who knew those little buttons would cause so much strife?

It’s come to my attention that Joseph Rose, writer for the Oregonian, did a piece on the door buttons.*  I’ve read it and reread it a couple of times, and… I can’t make heads or tails of it.

Says Joseph:

“What’s the point if having ‘door open’ buttons on the outside of MAX trains? It seems like every time a child gets separated from an adult at a station, there’s a surveillance video of someone desperately trying to get the train’s doors to open by pushing those buttons. They never work.”

What we have here is a basic misunderstanding of coming and going.
Of course, TriMet hasn’t done a bang-up job of educating the public about when we can and can’t use those buttons. Basically, they’re designed to work when MAX is coming. Or, more precisely, when it has arrived.

That buttons [sic] are for the rare times when a light rail train pulls into a station and its sliding doors don’t deploy. Hit the button and they should hiss open like they’re on the Starship Enterprise.

Says I:

I can only assume, given that Rose quotes a conversation with TriMet spokesperson Mary Fetsch later in the article, that he got this information from her.  

Too bad it’s wrong.

Go ahead, give that a shot the next time you’re at a platform and an out-of-service train stops there. Push the button on the outside of the train and see if the doors hiss open like the Starship Enterprise.  Tell Picard and Data I said hi.

No, all you’ll get for your trouble there is the operator coming over the external PA to say “This train is not in service.”

As I’d said before, those buttons only work when the operator puts the doors on release. If they’re not on release, hit the button all you want and the door still won’t open.  If you don’t know what “on release” means, go look. Seriously, I got pictures there and everything!  I’m trying to help!

Released interior door buttons on a Type 4

But since in Portland people are accustomed to the train pulling in and the doors opening, the doors are rarely on release at platform unless the train gets held there for whatever reason. Your friendly neighborhood rail operator will be taking care of all door operations for you.  And if s/he doesn’t put the doors on release, the buttons aren’t going to do a thing. So I’m trying to figure out what times Rose is referring to when he says a train rolls into a platform and doesn’t open the doors.  If the train is out of service, the operator is going to keep the doors closed, so they won’t be on release.  If the operator forgets to hit the door open button (it can happen, though it’s rare), then I really doubt that they would’ve somehow thought to hit the release button.  Or maybe they opened the doors on the non-platform side of the train (oops) but that’s still not going to have an effect on the release door buttons on the platform side.  So… I don’t know what he’s talking about, but I’m assuming it’s information he got from Mary Fetsch, which was either given incorrectly or misinterpreted before it went to press.

The kicker, of course, is that Fetsch is an official representative of TriMet, so her information is supposed to be considered the accurate and approved TriMet response to questions when released by the press, so by that logic I guess what Rose wrote has to be correct.  I, on the other hand, cannot/do not represent TriMet or light rail operators/operations.  My blog is sort of like the lottery or psychic hotlines – at best it can be considered for entertainment purposes only since I can’t claim anything on here to be official TriMet information.  Doesn’t matter that neither Fetsch nor Rose has operated a MAX train, and likely neither one has spent time in the cab of one for anything more than a photo op.  If even that.

And I guess while we’re at it, let’s address the bolded part of Rose’s column. Here’s a “best practice” for you – if you are traveling on MAX with a small child, hold onto them as you get on and off the train, and mind them while you are on the train. It’s not even just about the risk of being separated from your child by closing train doors – it’s not safe for them to be running around near a train.  Period.  I promise you the operator really does not want to run your child over, but if a child is small enough to dart away from you when you don’t hold on to them, then they’re small enough to put themselves in danger around a train.  Please keep your kids safe around trains and other vehicles!

*Update 06-27-10: I see now that Rose updated his post earlier today to reflect that the doors need to be on release and the train needs to be in-service for those buttons to work.  Much better!  And for reference – Old J. Rose article and New J. Rose article

Do not stand here

Please do not stand here

Why not?

Contrary to seemingly popular belief, it’s not really for your safety that you don’t stand within that white box on the trains by the doors – notice that similar markings aren’t found on the high-floor Type 1 cars or by the non-bridgeplate doors in the 2s and 3s and 4s.  The type 4 doors look a little different:

Type 4 bridgeplate extendedType 4 bridgeplate, extended

These are found only at the bridgeplate doors, and the reason you’re not supposed to stand there is that that part of the floor is a cover for the bridgeplate that lifts slightly to deploy and retract a bridgeplate.  If several hundred pounds of people are on top of that cover when the motor inside tries to retract the bridgeplate, it gets stuck.  Then the operator has to radio in to get permission to fix it, leave their cab, walk to the affected bridgeplate (which might be in their trailing car), fix the problem, and return to their cab.  And now your train is late.

So, it’s easiest just to tell people not to stand on it!

Door buttons

Not a frequently asked question so much as a frequently complained complaint:

“Those yellow buttons to open the door never work!”

Type 3 release buttonshey look, it’s car 304 again!

This is something I really wish TriMet would make a PSA about, but they haven’t. Those buttons do work.  They work very well.  They just don’t work the way people often assume that they work – which seems to be that pressing the buttons is supposed to always open the doors. This is incorrect. Pressing the button to open the door will only open it when the operator has put the doors on “release”.  To show what that means, take a look at the door controls in the cabs of each type of train car:

Type 4 door buttons

Type 1 door buttonsType 2 door buttons

On the left - door buttons for the left side doors on a Type 1.
In the center – door buttons for the right-side doors on a Type 2 or 3 (though I think this particular train was a Type 2)
On the right – door buttons for the right-side doors on a Type 4.

For the doors on both sides of the train, the train operator has four buttons they can press:

1. Bridgeplates / Deploy – this blue button will deploy the bridgeplates at the bridgeplate doors on that side of the train.  Operators will press this when they come into a platform and see someone with a mobility device waiting to board – it’s faster to deploy the bridgeplates on arrival than it would be to have the passenger press that button themselves.  If a passenger already on the train hits the bridgeplate button inside the train while the train is in motion, the bridgeplate at that door will automatically deploy at the next stop.  If a passenger hits that button when the train is stopped and the doors are open, it will make that door close and then reopen with the bridgeplate deployed.

2. Close – closes the doors on that side of the train (straightforward)

3. Open – this opens the doors on that side of the train (also straightforward)

4. Release – this activates those yellow passenger buttons in question (you can tell when they are activated because they light up) so that when a passenger pushes one, that particular door will open.

Those yellow door buttons in the passenger area of the train are only going to work when the operator pushes that last button and puts the doors on release.

Right side doors on a Type 2 have been put on release by the operator

Here’s how doors that are on release look from the passenger’s point of view:

Type 1 outside release

Type 1, outside of the train

Type 1 inside release

Type 1, inside the train

(and here’s how that button will look when the doors are closed – pushing this will have no effect)

Type 1 inside closed

Then the low-floors – first the Type 2s & 3s:

Type 2 or 3 (this is a 3) outside the train

Type 3 inside release

Type 2 or 3, inside the train

(and here’s how that button will look when the doors are closed – pushing this will have no effect)Type 3 inside closed

Then the Type 4 door buttons:

Type 4 exterior buttonType 4, non-bridgeplate door, outside of train – the lights on these are very difficult to see if  they are in direct sunlight, so I left this picture full-size in the link (it still doesn’t really help though)

Type 4 non bridgeplate doorType 4, non-bridgeplate door, inside of train – easier to see (the other lights that are dark flash red when the door opens)

Type 4 bridgeplate doorsType 4, bridgeplate door, outside of train – again, the lights don’t show up well in daytime

Type 4 bridgeplate doors, interiorType 4, bridgeplate door, inside of train

During a normal platform service, the operator will open the doors, watch people board and exit the train, close the doors, and continue on a proper signal without ever turning the doors over to release.

Doors on release while in service

The doors are not put on release during a normal platform stop because the operator takes care of opening and closing the doors, and people expect that the doors are going to be opened at each stop.  They don’t expect to have to hit a button to do it themselves. However, if the train is held up at the platform for whatever reason – for example, if they have a train in front of them and can’t proceed yet, the operator will typically put the doors on release after closing them so that passengers can let themselves on or off the train. This is preferable to reopening the doors for two reasons. First, if the weather is bad (too hot, too cold, or rainy) this keeps the climate-controlled air inside the train. Second, if no passengers board or exit the train while the doors are on release, the operator doesn’t have to wait for doors to close before they can take off.

Some platforms where it’s not uncommon for a train to wait and put the doors on release are Galleria / SW 10th (used when a train is held there because a streetcar is passing through) or Goose Hollow westbound (in rush hour, if the trains had been stacked up downtown, trains will often have to wait here for their leader to get far enough ahead so they can proceed), and platforms like Hillsboro Central TC or Gresham Central TC where a train may have to wait for an open track in the terminus.

If you’ve ever been on a train and heard “The doors are closing” when the doors already were closed and you’ve been sitting at a platform longer than normal, that’s because the operator had the doors on release, and now hit the door close button so they can proceed.  A train cannot move forward if the doors are open or on release – attempting to move forward will automatically close the doors.

When you think about it, it wouldn’t make sense for the doors to always open when those buttons were hit – what if you accidentally leaned into it as the train was doing a comfortable 55 mph down the Banfield?

Entering the BanfieldNot a place you’d want to accidentally fall out of the train, though I’d be hard-pressed to think of any GOOD place to fall out of a train.

Doors on release at a terminus

Doors will also be put on release at the ends of the lines (Cleveland Ave, Hatfield Government Center, PDX Airport, Beaverton Transit Center (only for Red Line trains, not Blue Lines passing through), the Expo Center, and Clackamas Town Center) – this is so that the operator can close the train doors and keep in the climate-controlled air, but passengers can let themselves on the train while it’s on the layover.

Type 3 doors releaseA Red Line train (ignore the blue Hillsboro sign in the window, that’s a train on the next track) at Beaverton Transit Center where the doors are closed, but on release – click for full-size version to see how the door buttons are illuminated

In conclusion

So when you run up to a train at a platform and hit the button because you didn’t make it into the door before it closed, it’s not broken when that button doesn’t reopen the doors.  It really is supposed to work like that – the operator watched that everyone who was on the platform got on, and closed the doors when their signal was up and they were ready to leave. If the door is not on release, they didn’t have time to wait for you.

Honestly, the best way to get on a train before the operator closes the doors is to be at the platform before the train is.  I know that is not always feasible (especially if you’re trying to make a connection from a bus or even another train) but a normal platform service will have the doors open long enough that everyone on the platform who wants to get on can do so, and everyone on the train who wants to get off can do so.  The operators aren’t closing the doors and leaving to spite you as you come running from half a block away.  At most platforms, operators time calling their signal around how long it takes to service the platform, so once they close their doors they need to get going or their signal times out and they have to sit there to wait for it again.  At some platforms, that’s a loss of 4 or 5 minutes if they were to reopen the door for a late runner, so it’s not reasonable for them to wait for you – the delay would be a lot longer than just a few seconds to reopen the doors.

And yes, at some platforms, there’s more leeway and an operator (if he or she has the time to do so) can wait for someone if they see them running, but don’t count on that happening with every operator or every platform.

Buses have a lot more flexibility for people running late – they can more easily wait for you or even stop (where it’s safe!) away from a stop to let someone on.  A bus waiting for a late runner doesn’t have as severe an impact on their schedule and the schedule of the buses behind them as a train would.  One train running late will make several trains behind it late, which has even bigger impacts around areas where train lines cross, such as the Steel Bridge/Rose Quarter area or Gateway.

Bottom line:

Trains don’t wait for people, people wait for trains.

And now just a bit of bonus non-TriMet trivia…

TRAX cabNot a TriMet train

This is a cab pic I took of a TRAX train in Salt Lake City, Utah. Their train operation is slightly different from TriMet’s – a train will pull into a platform and the operator will put the doors on release but not open them.  If you want to get off or on, you have to push the door button to do it.  Then the operator will close the doors and continue on to the next platform. MAX used to run with a similar practice, but for a while now operators have been taking care of all door opening and closing for their passengers.