Monthly Archives: March 2010

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.


Question: What are those signs by the train platforms with things like “Main 1” or “A-3 Central”?

Those are reminders to operators to switch to the correct radio channel for the area they are in. The primary method of communication on MAX is over the open-air radio. Operators, Controllers, supervisors, field maintenance workers, etc all use the radio, and since the area serviced by MAX is so large, radio coverage is broken down into channels for each section – since an operator who is only doing the Yellow and Green lines doesn’t need to know about track work done by Orenco, for example.

Radio history

Originally there was one channel for mainline operations (Main 1), used from Gresham to CBD (Central Business District, aka downtown).  When the west side alignment opened in 1997, Main 2 was added and was the channel used from downtown to Hillsboro.

When the Yellow Line opened in 2004, Main 3 was added, and it split the way the channels had previously been assigned, geographically speaking.  The following four pictures were taken in fall of 2008, after the Yellow Line opened but before the Green Line did.

Main 1NE 7th Ave platform, looking east – eastbound trains would switch to the east side radio channel here from the CBD channel

Main 3 from 7thNE 7th Ave platform, looking west- westbound trains would switch to the CBD radio channel here coming from the eastside channel

Main 2PGE Park, Westbound – Trains would switch from the CBD channel 3 to the westside channel 2 here

Main 3 PGEPGE Park, Eastbound – Trains switch from westside channel 2 to CBD channel 3

But then the Green Line opened, adding north-south trains downtown as well as a stretch of alignment to Clackamas Town Center,  so the setup of radio channels had to be changed again.

Radio today (by which I mean spring of 2010)

Those old Main 1 through Main 3 signs are no longer used. Currently there are four channels that are most commonly used for mainline operations (there are also separate channels for the yards and other less-frequently used channels for other purposes).

Map of radio channelsThe 4 channels used on the mainline today (ignore the Streetcar on the map since it doesn’t use the radio that the MAX trains do, neither does WES which has been removed from the map).  Click for larger version.

A-5 PGEPGE Park, westbound platform

In green on the above map, A-5 “West”, from Hatfield Government Center to PGE Park.


In red on the map, bordered by PGE Park on the west, Oldtown/Chinatown on the east, and Union Station on the north, A-4 “CBD”

A-3 82nd Ave

A-3 Oldtown/ChinatownA-3 Union Station

In yellow on the map, bordered by Oldtown/Chinatown on the west, Union Station on the south, and NE 82nd Ave on the east, A-3 “Central”

A-2 82ndNE 82nd Ave eastbound platform

And finally, in blue on the map bordered by NE 82nd Ave on the west is A-2 “East”

Edited, fall 2010 – the temporary signs have been replaced. I haven’t gotten pictures of all of them. The geographic boundaries haven’t changed, just the style of the signs.

Tuning in

Because the broadcasts over the radio are open, anyone with a scanner can listen in.  I don’t have a scanner and so I don’t know how to set one up to follow rail communications, but you can use an online scanner to get an idea of what it’s like.  I’ve heard TriMet rail transmissions over OregonLive’s police scanner, so if you’re curious you can use that as a starting point.  However, since that scanner follows everything, in addition to rail you’ll also hear police, fire, & EMS broadcasts, as well as airport parking shuttles and probably some other things that I can’t identify.  I don’t know of any other free/easy way for the public to listen to radio broadcasts if that’s the sort of thing they’re interested in.

And one last thing…

This is a radio, not a phoneCeci n’est pas un phone

In the cabs, the radio handset looks like a phone.  It is not a phone.  If you see a train operator using this, they are not on the phone.  They are using the radio, which they are required to do, not using a phone while operating which is illegal.

Call boards

I had been working on a draft of this topic, then I saw a video of Al’s asking about these, so here it is:

Ever see one of these before?

call board

You probably have even if you never gave it conscious attention since track work is done almost daily… they’re called “Call boards” (the logic behind that naming convention is pretty obvious!)

They’re one of the many safety features built into the system.  When a call board is up, an operator MUST call Rail Control over the radio before doing anything at that platform aside from opening their doors.  They cannot leave that platform or select their signal (at platforms where that’s applicable) until they get permission over the air from Control.

There are a number of reasons why a call board might be up.  Two that I’ve seen most frequently are for track personnel and crossing gate failure.

Authorized Maintenance of Way (MOW) Personnel in Track

The most common use of call boards is for authorized personnel in the track – this can be anything from people doing maintenance on the switches, cleaning litter, or doing a walking inspection of the rails and overhead lines.

So for example, if personnel are going to be walking down the tracks along I-84, it’ll be typical for call boards to be up at Lloyd Center for eastbound trains and Gateway for westbound trains.  When an operator calls Rail Control at either of those locations, Control will contact the personnel doing the inspection to confirm their location and ensure that the train operator knows where they will be.  The train will then operate at reduced speed away from the platform, giving audible warning to the personnel, and then resuming normal speed once they’re clear of the area.

Obviously this is a HUGE safety issue – normal operating speed in some areas of the alignment is 55mph.  Consider what could happen if there were personnel in the tracks and the operator, not knowing they were there, went down the tracks at full speed. Requiring operators to contact Control when they see a call board ensures that they know where to expect people in the tracks and can proceed at a slower rate of speed until clear of the area. No TriMet employee has ever been killed by TriMet light rail, and using a setup like mandatory calls like this is a big part of the reason why.

The reason why an operator can’t select their signal at a platform without permission if a call board is up is that at many platforms, selecting a signal will also throw switches on the alignment, in locations not always visible from the platform.  If a worker has their hand or a tool in the switches and the switch suddenly moves, serious damage can occur.

Crossing Gate Failure

The second use of call boards that I’ve seen has been when crossing gates fail.

Crossing GatesI have no pictures of a broken gate, so here is a crossing gate that is working properly – the slightly long exposure shows that all of the mast lights and arm lights are working – normally they are flashing lights.  EDIT – on April 5, 2010 I got a picture of a failed gate arm.

First, a gate has malfunctioned if one of the mast lights are dark or if one of the gate arm lights are dark.  In these situations, the gate will be reported to Control so it can be fixed, but movement through it can proceed as normal.  A gate is considered failed if more than one of the mast lights is dark, or if more than one of the arm lights is dark, if a mast light AND an arm light are both dark, or if the gate is obviously broken (gate arm on the ground or stuck in the upright position, car crashed into it, etc). Federal regulations come into play when this happens. So when a gate has failed, a train is required to call Control from the platform prior to the broken gate. At the crossing with the failed gate, the operator must come to a complete stop, sound horn warning, and proceed when safe – even if there is a supervisor or police officer directing traffic at the intersection.

Once again, you can see the importance of the call boards – they are a reminder ensuring that the train operator knows that they will have to come to a complete stop at the next gated intersection because gate protecting it has failed.

Ticket machines

Question: What is the deal with those $@%#ing ticket machines?

Short Answer: I don’t know, I hate them too.

Rendition of one thing I would like to see happen to the ticket machinesDescent

Another possibility I am open toTicket monster

No, seriously.  I joke only to keep from screaming.  Okay.

I have two main problems with the ticket machines.


(actually who needs a second reason?  That one right there really should be enough)

Exact fare required, No coins acceptedA typical broken fare machine, Hawthorn Farm

Like that error message?  Sorry for the low quality – I was on a train riding through that station when I saw it out the window & got a picture. Exact fare required, no coins accepted.  Considering that an adult fare is $2.30, a Youth ticket is $1.50, and an Honored Citizens ticket is 95 cents, how, specifically, are you supposed to make that work without using coins?

TriMet’s official response is, in my opinion, lacking:

Try another method of payment.

BUT: What if you don’t have another method of payment…?  (see next section of this entry for a continued rant on this)

Get off at the next platform, buy a ticket, and board the next train.

BUT:  This puts you at least one train behind (which can be a wait as long as 30 minutes depending on where you are, where you need to go, and what time of day it is) because the train that you were on can’t wait for you to buy a ticket at the next platform

Bonus: This is also assuming the ticket machine at the new platform works (one night I saw the cash machines out of order at Beaverton Creek, Merlo SW/158th, and Elmonica SW/170th – which are three consecutive stations.) In those situations, the correct thing to do is apparently to get off, not be able to buy a ticket, get on the next train, get off at the next platform, not be able to buy a ticket, get on the train after that, get off at the next platform…  Yeah, that’s a reasonable response.

– and this is also assuming that you can find the machines on the new platform – for example, if you got on at Goose Hollow heading west and the machines didn’t work, there are no ticket machines at platform level at Washington Park or Sunset TC.

Then buy a book of tickets beforehand, and validate one of those tickets when you arrive on the platform

WELL: This is a nice idea, but not always practical (if you live by a platform but not by any place that sells tickets.  Or if you’re a tourist, like when the machines at PDX are broken). And seriously, if there is a machine at every platform, it is not unreasonable to expect to be able to pay for your fare at every platform. Some of this burden needs to rest on TriMet, not just the passengers.

Bonus: This is also working under the assumption that the ticket validators at the platform will stamp your ticket with the correct date and time.  Which is not a safe assumption to make:

Ticket validator out of orderRed light = validator is out of service

Bob and Matt of did an excellent video on this a few years ago.  Sadly, doesn’t seem like a whole lot has changed since then.

And even when the machines take your money, they don’t always give you a valid ticket:

No expiration dateSaw this one from a passenger – she said it confused a fare inspector because it came out of the machine with no date stamped on it. No fines were issued – instead the inspector settled for writing the date along with his name and badge number on it as a way to validate it. But really, if a passenger puts in money for a ticket, I think it’s fair to expect they will get a valid ticket from the machine, not from a fare inspector hand-writing a validation on it.


If you look close, you'll see this one has an error message too

This bothers me more than the machines being broken, to be honest.


In the TriMet tv video about the broken ticket machines, the cheery voiceover promises that half of the old ticket machines will be replaced (though by this point, it’s “have been replaced”) by Spring of 2009. What they didn’t say is that those machines were replaced with ones that only accept credit/debit cards.

Now what is the possible advantage of that?  Hey I have an idea – let’s take away a method of payment for passengers!  Awesome!  That’s a great way to ensure that people pay their fare before getting on a train when they have one fewer way to do it!

TriMet likes to pride itself by talking about how much of the ridership are “choice riders” – that is, they have a car but choose to use public transit.  But not everyone is a choice rider – a lot of transit users are unemployed, on food stamps, on welfare, or homeless (and there is nothing wrong with that!). So not every rider has or uses a credit card – are they somehow less deserving to use public transportation if they have the cash in their hand to do so but not a credit card?  Apparently the answer is “Yes.”  Which seems to be missing the point of public transit.

WES ticket vending machineAll of the fare machines for the WES train are credit card only.  I guess if you don’t have a credit card, TriMet doesn’t want you on that train.  A bit classist, there, no?  I’ve heard some people say that it’s so that TriMet doesn’t have to send out money collectors to those platforms, but I don’t know, if we’re celebrating WES as part of the service area, then shouldn’t it be, well, serviced?

If I go to a train platform with a $5 bill in my hand expecting to buy an all-day pass, I should be able to do that. “Use another machine” is the official response. But if I only have cash and the cash machine is broken, what then? I actually ran into that situation before I worked for TriMet – I gave my $5 bill to a very nice lady who used her credit card to buy me a ticket from the machine because both of the cash machines at the platform were broken. People shouldn’t have to depend on the kindness of strangers to pay for their fare, they should be depending on the reliability of the ticket machines. Which they can’t do.

I’ve also noticed that on many platforms, the more conveniently located machine is credit card only. For example, at Beaverton Creek where you can only access the platform from the east, the cash machine is all the way at the west end of the platform (and I check it every time I go westbound through there since you can see the screen from that side, and it’s very frequently out of service). At the Rose Quarter platforms, the credit-card only machines are located closer to the arena than the cash machines.

10 tickets onlySometimes, a “working” machine means something like this partially working machine – you can by a 10 pack of 2-hr tickets, but nothing else

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but given the exquisite failure rate of the fare machines, do you really trust giving it your credit card information?

Picture courtesy of reader Matt. Why is it that when a machine only lets you buy one option, it’s usually this one which is overkill for what people need?

So… I can’t tell you why the machines suck, I just know that they do.  Here is my advice if you encounter a broken fare machine:

1. Take pictures if you can!  Most cell phones nowadays have cameras, so if you have a cell phone and it has a camera, get a picture of the machine in case you get fare inspected and need to defend yourself. The inspector can call in to verify if that machine had been having issues so it’s important that you get the correct machine. Make sure you get a picture of the machine number, located on the top right of the front of the machine.

2. Again, if you have a cell phone, call it in. 503-238-RIDE is a good number to have in your phone contact list.  If the customer service desk is open when you call, tell them the platform and machine number.  Their answer will be that you have to get off at the next platform, buy a ticket, and wait for the next train. This may or may not be feasible for you, but at least get it on record that you reported it.  If you have the time to kill and can get off the train to buy a ticket at another platform, that’s going to be your best option to avoid getting a citation since that’s TriMet’s answer to the problem, even though it’s a poor response on their part.

3. Tell the train operator when you get on, and ask (nicely) if they can call it in.  DO NOT yell at them – it’s not their fault that the machine is broken or their responsibility to keep the machines working.

4. Don’t throw out your old tickets – Laura Dudley used her stack of old tickets as part of her defense that she was not a fare evader when she fought her citation – and it helped her win her case. If you don’t have a valid fare but have several expired fares on you when a supervisor or fare inspector asks to see your ticket, it could make them more sympathetic if you can show that you habitually DO pay.

5. If none of the machines at a platform work but that platform is also serviced by buses (e.g. Willow Creek, Gresham Central), get a transfer from a bus operator.  Obviously this isn’t always an option, but I’ve seen it done before when all of the machines at Beaverton Transit Center were broken (Bus operator and blogger Al M recorded a video on another night that this happened.)

6. Don’t mouth off to the fare inspectors if you get stopped.  Be polite while you explain why you don’t have a fare, informing them which machine(s) were broken and what you did to report it. If you act like a jerk, they probably will issue a citation.

Good luck.

(and please don’t vandalize a machine that is broken. I am in favor of a giant red angry monster coming to eat the ticket machines, but I am not in favor of someone deliberately vandalizing a machine. Don’t be a jerk.)

Train cars – Type 4

Question: What are the different types of train cars on MAX? Part 4

The Type 4s are the newest cars in the fleet, having entered passenger service in August  2009.

Type 4 – cars 401 through 422

Type 4 at CTC TCAlso known as “those shiny new ones.”

These are very different from the Type 1, 2, and 3 cars! Color-wise, they all have the new TriMet color scheme, and like the Type 3s, external ads are limited to a small part of the outer body (typically the ads I’ve seen on the 4s are TriMet specific ads, such as promoting the WES service).  The Type 4s use LED displays for the destination signs (compared to the scrolling signs of the older trains). These are manufactured by Siemens and were first put into service in 2009 to coincide with the Green Line alignment opening.

Because each Type 4 car has only one cab, they will only ever be coupled with another Type 4 and you won’t see a single car Type 4 train.  Each type 4 has a folding coupler head located under the cab that permits it to be coupled to a Type 1, 2, or 3, but that is only ever used if the Type 4 train needs to be towed or pushed somewhere while out of service – it will never be coupled to one of the older fleet in service.

Type 4, leaving Jackson turnaroundType 4 train leaving the Jackson Street turnaround by PSU

The layout inside is also changed from the older cars. Similar to the Type 2s and 3s, there is an upper deck near the cab, behind which are bike racks and then a priority seating area for people with mobility devices or other physical impairments.  Then the C-Section (the middle part) of the train has seats arranged face-to-face, somewhat similar to the seating arrangement in a Type 1 and different from the sideways-facing seats in the C-Section of the Type 2s and 3s.

Type 4 C-SectionLooking towards the rear of the car from the middle

Then in the back of the car is the “parlor” – this is where the second cab of the train should be, but instead there is additional seating and big windows like the windshields of the cabs.

Type 4 ParlorParlor, Type 4

Even though the 4s are shiny and new and I think they are impressive looking, I’m not really a fan of them on a practical design level.

Some seats are very cramped:Type 4 seatsGood luck comfortably fitting two full-grown adults in there!

There are a lot of tripping hazards:Type 4 from parlorI’ve seen people trip on that ledge on either side of the aisle between the seats, especially when the train is crowded.  In the older fleet, there is no step between the aisle and the seating. Also, though it’s a bit hard to see in the photo above, that aisle slopes down at the end towards the center of the train, which catches a lot of people off guard making them stumble. The above picture was taken before the 4s were put into service – yellow tape was placed on the floors around the tripping hazards, which was great for the first week or so. But now that tape is sort of a muddy brown-grey color, so it’s not really effective to draw people’s attention to changes in the floor.

Watch your stepView of the aisle at the front of the train car showing the sloped tripping hazard and the once-yellow striping.

There are some areas of space that would be okay to stand in if there were lower stanchion poles to hold onto:
Open spaceThis is the priority seating area for seniors, people with disabilities, and mobility devices, where all of the overhead bars are out of reach of shorter people so it’s a lot of empty space that can be difficult to stand in if the train is crowded.  I understand that there are no floor-to-ceiling stanchion poles here to allow wheelchair movement, but I prefer the design of the priority seating area from the Type 2s and 3s.  Those have three sets of fold-down seating in this space and wider partitions separating this area from the bike rack where there is room for two people to easily stand or hold on.  Here there is only one set of fold-down seating because the bike rack partitions are narrower, leaving room for only one person to stand there. I would have assumed that the priority seating area for seniors and people with difficulty navigating steps would have more… well, actual seating.  I think this space could be better served by adding more fold-down seating that can be used as needed and folded to allow for wheelchair boarding.

I think the giant blind spots which are much larger than the ones in the other train car types are a safety hazard.

And I’m kind of vexed by the absence of external mirrors – operators instead look at monitors linked to external cameras to check the platform, but the picture on those can be difficult to see if the cameras are being rained on, or if it’s foggy (because those types of weather conditions obviously never happen in Portland)

frozen fog cameraPoor visibility – at least this train also had mirrors for the operator to use

The above picture isn’t a Type 4 camera monitor, but it’s a good illustration why I don’t like relying on camera monitors alone – if your mirror gets gunked up, you can reach out and clean it.  If your camera ices over like this one did during freezing fog, you lose the ability to watch that side of your train unless you also have a mirror to use. Granted, mirror visibility isn’t as critical in trains as it is for buses (since you’re not exactly going to be changing lanes with a train) but you still need to be able to see down the length of the platform to watch people boarding and exiting your train.

But there are some cool features about the Type 4s:

Seeing out the front!Little kids seem to really enjoy this. So do some adults.

Seeing out the back of one car into the other car from the parlor!Type 4 parlor view(which works better on a non-rainy day, but what can you do?)

And the ride quality of these is extremely smooth, thanks to the ability of these trains to be set at a speed and automatically maintain it – reducing the jerkiness around curves or down hills that can sometimes be felt with the older trains in the fleet.

One of eachOne of each.
Photo by EMS from when she finally got her dream shot of each car type in the yard

That about wraps up the main points of the four train car types. Nowadays most MAX trains will be two cars long (one exception is the Portland Mall shuttle, which will be a single Type 2 or 3 car that runs between PSU and Union Station during the day on weekdays), with a Type 4 always coupled with another Type 4, and a Type 1 (high floor) always coupled with a 2 or a 3 (low floor). The cars are capable of functioning as train longer than two cars, but that will only happen in unusual circumstances, such as coupling a two-car train to another two-car train that is stuck or broken down in order to move it – which happened in June of 2010. The short length of Portland city blocks prohibits trains in normal service being longer than two cars – a three-car or longer train would block the intersection behind it at a platform stop.

In future entries I may go into specific detail about something particular to one car type or another, but this series of entries serves as a reference point giving an overview of the four types of train cars used in service today.