Not a frequently asked question so much as a frequently complained complaint:
“Those yellow buttons to open the door never work!”
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:
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.
Here’s how doors that are on release look from the passenger’s point of view:
(and here’s how that button will look when the doors are closed – pushing this will have no effect)
Then the low-floors – first the Type 2s & 3s:
Then the Type 4 door buttons:
Type 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)
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?
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.
A 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
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.
Trains don’t wait for people, people wait for trains.
And now just a bit of bonus non-TriMet trivia…
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.