Monthly Archives: May 2010

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!


Mirrors > cameras

Via Portland Afoot, I just read this letter to the editor (the last one) where someone suggests replacing the mirrors on buses with cameras to prevent blind spots that may have contributed to the recent left-turn incident that killed two women.

I will now demonstrate, with one picture, why this is a really, really bad idea:

Why mirrors are better than camerasI’ve posted this picture already, but it makes the point nicely.

This is what happened during freezing fog two winters ago.  It doesn’t take much to mess up a camera – moisture, ice, debris, and your visibility with it is gone.  This particular iced up camera at least happened in a car that had mirrors.  I know I’m not the only one curious how well the Type 4s (which have only cameras, no mirrors) are going to fare when we get a severe winter storm – we were lucky this past season!

There’s also another car, I forget which number but I think it was a type 2, which has an interesting mirror quirk that an operator who is a friend of mine pointed out to me when I got on his train a few months ago – the right camera mapped to the left monitor, and the left camera mapped to the right monitor.  He noticed this servicing a platform when he looked at the camera monitor that should have corresponded to the side he opened the doors, saw trackway and not platform, and had a brief “OMG opened doors on wrong side!” moment (which is a rule violation since it’s a safety hazard).  Then he realized, no, he opened the doors on the correct side, but the camera on that side was showing him the wrong side of the train.  So he called in the malfunction and relied on his mirrors instead.

Now picture that happening on a bus… especially one that’s had its mirrors replaced by cameras – the left-side monitor for whatever reason displays the view from the right-side camera and the right-side monitor displays the view from the left camera.  Would you want to be walking, driving, or cycling anywhere near that bus?  I wouldn’t!

So close yet so far..

1324Off by just one!

Fellow blogger Eva started it when she worked at rail – attempting to get her “dream shot” – a picture of each of the 4 train car types next to each other in the yard.  She eventually got it, but the cars weren’t in order from oldest to newest.

So when I saw this at Elmonica today it got my hopes up – only 4 trains in the yard?  A type 1 all the way to the left and a type 4 all the way to the right?? Could this be it?  But no, the 2 and the 3 are on the wrong tracks to make it work.  So close yet so far.

But this shows you what the storage tracks at Elmonica look like at least, I guess.

How fast do the trains go?

Question: How fast do the trains go?

Rush hour on BanfieldFaster than the cars do during rush hour, at least.

Max (no pun intended) speed

The trains have a governor built in that brings the train to a smooth yet irretrievable stop if it goes above about 58mph (though some of the Type 1s are more like 60mph). This is called an overspeed and (thankfully) is not a rule violation since a lot of new operators overspeed by accident their first time going down a hill.

SpeedometerSpeedometer of one of the low-floors, I think this was a Type 3.  Sorry for the reflection of my safety vest!

The type 1s, 2s, and 3s have three “speed maintain” or SM modes to prevent overspeeding when going down a hill – SM 1 prevents a train from going faster than 55mph on a hill, SM 2 prevents a train from going faster than 35mph, and SM 3 tops off at 15 mph.  There aren’t overspeeds associated with the SM modes, they just sort of work like cruise control when going downhill that they’ll hold a train at that particular speed and prevent it from going over. The type 4s are a little different – those can be set to any speed and maintain it whether going up or down a hill, which is part of the reason the ride quality of the 4s is so smooth.

Speed Limits

Yes, the rail alignment has speed limits, and yes, speeding is a rule violation.  Speed limits on the mainline range from 5mph to 55mph.  From fastest to slowest, here are examples of the speed limits in assorted areas of the mainline:


Cars on I-84 during rush hour will be slower than you.55mph on the Banfield

Many stretches in ABS territory have a speed limit of 55mph, which can be done since ABS territory is dedicated rail so there isn’t a worry about running with vehicle traffic.  In areas where there are curves, gated intersections, platforms, etc, the speed limit will be lower.


Burnside speed limitI didn’t take this picture – borrowed from another rail operator’s blog

35mph is the maximum speed limit in pre-empt territory, found along most of Burnside. All of my Burnside pictures are too dark to be worth posting so I had to borrow this one.


Interstate Ave Speed LimitSame as above – didn’t take this picture, borrowed from a rail operator’s blog

30mph is the maximum speed limit along Interstate.  The Yellow Line doesn’t pick up any appreciable speed until the Vanport Bridge, which is the only area of the Yellow Line alignment that is ABS territory.


Holladay – eastbound from Oregon Convention Center to 7th & Holladay

Along Holladay in Portland and Washington St in Hillsboro (both pre-empt territory), the speed limit is 25mph.


Westbound out of the tunnel into Goose Hollow

Some of the hills have a speed limit of 20mph, like this part exiting the tunnel eastbound.  (Sorry about the bit in the video where it goes sideways!)


CBD at nightIn the CBD (both the original Blue & Red line east/west alignment as well as the north/south Portland Mall alignment) the speed limit is 15mph on the straight sections of track.  Around some of the curves in this part of the alignment (Goose Hollow, PGE Park, Skidmore Fountain, 1st Ave, and that area up by Union Station), the speed limit will be 8mph or 10mph.


Bridge spanRemember when cars used to drive across the middle section of the bridge?

The Steel Bridge span – not the entire bridge, just the part that can be raised.  Even at that low speed you can feel a pretty large bump going over the bridge joints – the speed limit isn’t that low to protect the structural integrity of the bridge, but rather the vibrations created by going faster can damage the microswitches on the machinery on the bridge.  Getting up to the span and once the entire train is off, the speed limit is 15mph, same as the rest of the CBD.

Train on bridgeTrain on the bridge span, taken from the waterfront

The “fishhook” – that curve after Gateway that is used to diverge to the airport alignment is also 10 mph.


Over some switches, the speed is 5mph – you’ll see this entering or exiting Hatfield in Hillsboro, and also heading west into Rose Quarter. When the Yellow Line used to turn around at 11th Ave, the speed over those switches was also 5mph, as are the switches into and out of the Jackson turnaround by PSU.

5mph west into Rose QuarterThe train I’m in at the eastbound platform at Rose Quarter is stopped, but that train with the type 1 lead car is only going 5mph because of the switches into the westbound platform

Platform speeds

The speed limit into platforms is 20mph or the posted speed, whichever is less.  The front of the train must be at that speed by the time it reaches the near end of the platform.  There are some platforms where the approach speed is slower (e.g. Rose Quarter westbound as previously mentioned because of the switches, Millikan Way westbound because of poor visibility, Gateway and Beaverton Transit Center because they’re so busy, etc) but most are 20mph.  An out-of-service train bypassing a platform will also slow to 20mph until it’s clear of the platform.

The Robertson Tunnel

one of my favorite train pics I've taken!I love the tunnel.

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).

Signals to head west from Goose HollowThese signals allow trains from either track in Goose Hollow to go west through either tunnel bore

So to start, here’s a speedy look at the westbound bore of the tunnel:

The bores

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.

Blue light/emergency phone by platformOld pic, accidentally used flash, but it shows the blue light/emergency phone setup (and also the motion detectors – do not attempt to walk through the tunnel!)

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.

Light at the end of the tunnelApproaching the west exit of the westbound bore

The platform

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.

Core SampleLooking down the core sample on the eastbound platform

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.

East platform, east bore

Eastern bore entrance on the eastbound platform

East platform, west bore

Western bore entrance on the eastbound platform

Western platform, eastern bore

Eastern bore entrance on the westbound platform

West platform, west bore

Western bore entrance on the westbound platform

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:

Core sample time line

and assorted points of interest along the timeline:

history of animalsYou are here.I thought it was "Neanderthals" but apparently you don't need the H

toothbrushes, parking meters, etcJust in case you were wondering where parking meters and tape fit into the geological scheme of things.

wow that's old.That is a long time ago.

Then there’s the math-inspired art – with some mistakes!

Pi, sort ofThese aren’t really the digits of pi

Pascal's not really trianglePascal’s Triangle… except missing the 1 at the top that is supposed to be there to actually make it a triangle

Golden spiralThe 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.

Tunnel dedicationTunnel dedication

There’s also backlit art near the elevators on both sides.  I wonder about the backstory of some of it.  For example…

I don't recognize itIs 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”

Bones and pentagons.. if I ever start a band that's what I'm going to call it.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.

Won DoorWon door on the eastern side

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.)

Elevators16 million years ago to the present

Elevator at platform level

Going up...

Elevator at the surface level

...going down

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…

Zoo entranceBeautiful Oregon day!

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

NO TRESPASSING!No trespassing!

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.

Don’t try to drive through the tunnels either.  Seriously.

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!)

About photographs

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.

Inuit proverb