Technically there are two tunnels: the eastbound bore and the westbound bore, though both are signalized for travel in both directions, making it one of the few areas of the alignment where that is possible (generally speaking, running reverse on the alignment – that is, east on the westbound track for example – is done at restricted speeds with full stops required at every switch in the tracks since you don’t have signal protection telling you that the way is clear of other trains or that your switches are set properly. Where the rails are signalized in both directions, running reverse can be done at full speeds, but there are only a few areas of the alignment that are signalized for travel in both directions).
So to start, here’s a speedy look at the westbound bore of the tunnel:
Each bore is a little over 3 miles long, with the Washington Park platform closer to the eastern side. Every 750 feet in the tunnel is a blue light, which is one of the few things visible to passengers inside trains, though if you watch for them on the left side of the train you can spot the ABS signals, too. These blue lights indicate emergency phones and cross-passage doors which connect both bores. There are 19 of these crosspassages in all.
It’s a lot more obvious from the point of view of the cab than the passenger area, but there is an elevation change as you go through the tunnel, with the west being higher than the east. Since the tunnel slopes towards downtown, the area preceding the eastern exit of both bores is speed tripped for speeds greater than 20mph, though the ATS magnets are only active for trains heading east. Because of this, going west through the tunnel takes slightly less time than going east. If you look closely in the above video, you can see the ATS magnets at intervals soon after we enter the tunnel, but since we are climbing the hill heading west there, they’re not active.
The Washington Park platform is the only underground platform in the system, located at a depth of 260 feet, making it the deepest subway station in North America and the third deepest in the world (after Kiev’s Arsenalna platform which is 335 feet and Moscow’s Park Pobedy platform which is 318 ft below the surface). Lining the platform on each side is a core sample taken during construction of the tunnel.
The platforms, by the way, are color-coded. Anything associated with east is yellow for the rising sun – both the support beams of the eastbound platform and the bricks outlining the bore entrances on the eastern side of the platform. Similarly, anything associated with west is red for the setting sun – red support beams on the westbound platform and red brick on the bore entrances on the western side.
On both the eastbound and westbound sides are art displays that take a lot of inspiration from math and science. First, the core sample timeline:
and assorted points of interest along the timeline:
Then there’s the math-inspired art – with some mistakes!
Pascal’s Triangle… except missing the 1 at the top that is supposed to be there to actually make it a triangle
The golden spiral. No obvious mistakes in this artwork, I just like it.
Near the elevators is a dedication plaque, as well as a plaque honoring William Robertson.
There’s also backlit art near the elevators on both sides. I wonder about the backstory of some of it. For example…
Is this supposed to sound like anything in particular? I don’t think it’s written right.. EDIT – thank you to the commenter who identified it as the appropriate song “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”
The upper one looks to be a “Dem Bones” reference, including the optional “connected to the trombone” verse. The bottom I’m guessing is just a display of the various forms of the pentagon, and between that and some of the math art, I’m wondering if one of the artists who designed the work down here was inspired by Donald in Mathmagic Land.
And in the event of a fire, the eastbound and westbound platforms can be sealed off from each other. There’s also an elaborate ventilation system in case of fire or other emergencies in the tunnel, preventing smoke inhalation deaths that have happened in other rail tunnel fires.
Let’s head up
(if you need a trash can or want to buy a ticket, you’re going to have to – no ticket machines or garbage cans at the platform level.)
The elevators in the tunnel are pretty neat – there are two elevators at each end of the platform, and they only have two stops (the platform and the surface). Instead of floor level, they list your elevation above sea level, with an engraving under the elevation display showing a cutout of the West Hills. The elevators on the west side of the platform are closer to the Forestry Center and the ones on the east side are closer to the Zoo.
The elevators also make about as much noise as the trains do.
Once you get to the top…
The Zoo also gives you a discount on admission if you show your TriMet ticket when you go in. Not a bad deal.
Don’t be a dumbass in the tunnel
Do not attempt to walk through the tunnels. You’ll either be hit by a train or arrested on charges of interfering with public transportation.
If you’re going up to the zoo or Forestry Center, take the elevators. That’s why they are there. Do not take the stairs. The stairs are not there for general public use, and I believe trying to open the door sets off an alarm (and it’s a looooong climb up anyway!)
Obviously, I’ve taken lots of photos in the tunnel, and so have many other people. However, I’d once been informed (not while I was taking any pics and after I’d already taken dozens!) that technically you’re not allowed to take photos in the tunnel for homeland security reasons, etc. All activity in the tunnel is monitored – there are cameras everywhere on the platform and motion detectors that go off if anything other than a train is in the bores. So what I’m getting at is that if you do go taking pics down there, there’s a possibility that a TriMet security person is going to show up and ask you what you’re up to. I’ve never seen this actually happen, but I sort of feel obligated to throw it out there that it could happen.