Monthly Archives: November 2011

Repeater signals

Another post about signals… this time the rail kind. I thought about this while writing the last post, because this is sort of like a literal signal boost.

There are two signals on the Banfield between Lloyd Center and Hollywood TC that function differently from the rest of the signals on the alignment. These signals (34R and 36R) are repeater signals. They “repeat”, or display the same aspects, as ABS signals 34 (eastbound) and 36 (westbound) respectively, but are positioned slightly ahead of the signals they repeat because those signals are around a curve.

34 R (eastbound), which is repeating the aspect displayed on…

…Signal 34

Signal 36R does the same thing for signal 36, which is seen going westbound. I don’t have a picture of signal 36, but here’s its repeater signal:

Signal 36R (westbound). Signal 36 is located around the curve ahead, back-to-back with signal 34.

The speed limit through here is 45 mph, so due to the limited visibility with signals 34 and 36 being on a curve, it would be difficult to stop a train in time if those signals were red. The repeaters give advanced notice of what aspect those two signals are displaying so operators can act accordingly and stop if necessary.

Notice how there are no ATS magnets near the repeater signals, but you can see the ATS magnet (it looks like a small box between the rails) in the picture for signal 34. Going through a red on 34R or 36R won’t automatically bring your train to a stop, however, you still treat like all other red signals and stop your train prior to the repeater if it’s red. And if you run a red on a repeater signal and then trip the signal after it, I believe that counts as two rule violations for going through two red signals (which I’ve never done..).

Signal boost

For once, not the kind of signal I mean

A “Signal Boost” in the blogging, “get the word out” sense.

Dr Jeff’s Holiday Fare Transit Ticket Donations
(and shamelessly borrowed picture)

I want to draw attention to a good cause since I know a lot of people like to donate to charitable causes this time of year, and I like the transit-related goals of this one. Famed blogger / Twitterer (or is it Tweeter?) / super-commuter Dr Jeff is using his powers for good by hosting a drive to collect books of unvalidated TriMet tickets and donating them to those in need. From his blog:

In my travels on TriMet, I see lots of folks who aren’t as lucky as me. I’ve got a subsidized annual pass, a full time job, and a car if I need to get somewhere in a hurry. Lots of the people I share a ride with have none of those things. While a transit fare is not that big a deal to me, for some people it’s the difference between getting to the job site (or high school!) or just having to stay home.
It’s obviously a huge problem, and I’m not going to pretend that I’ll be able to make much of a dent. I’d like to do SOMETHING, though. So, here’s the deal. I’d like to collect books of transit tickets and distribute them.

This seems to really resonate with people, based on the response so far. The first 10 books were donated to Yolanda House, which is a domestic violence shelter that lists “bus tickets” as a needed item. The next 10 books went to Outside In because of their work with marginalized teens. Follow the Holiday Fare Blog for updates on donations received and where they will be going.

If you would like to contribute

You can buy books of tickets online and have them shipped to Doctor Jeff, or you can buy tickets at grocery stores or the TriMet ticket office downtown in Pioneer Square and mail them to him. Or if you like the idea but prefer to donate directly, I suppose you can just buy the tickets and mail them to Yolanda House or Outside In yourself (or any other shelter in need – e.g. Raphael House lists TriMet tickets as their biggest monthly expense; Bradley Angle has TriMet bus tickets as “wish list” items; I’m sure there are others who could use donated transit passes).

I think this is an amazing idea, different from the traditional clothing and toy drives because it addresses a need that is often overlooked… Please donate if you can, or spread the word if you can’t. Cheers!

Another 4-car MAX train, Type 1 version

This is too interesting not to share. Remember the 4-car Type 4?

Well in response to that, here’s an old video that shows a 4-car Type 1 train, courtesy of mrksvideos, who recently left this in a comment on that old post. Since I don’t expect people to go back and skim old posts for new comments (though there are some good ones!), I wanted to repost this here so that you all could see it. This is a train move that hasn’t been done for 20(ish) years. In addition to that, I really like this because it’s rare to see video of MAX during the wheelchair lift, pre-low-floor car era. Really glad mrksvideos recorded it and posted it.

mrksvideos’s description of what you’re seeing:

Back in the day Tri-Met ran Light Rail (MAX) to the far end of the line in Gresham, and had a few 2 car trains terminate there. The trains would pull down to the tail track at Cleveland Avenue and park there. Then, another train whose day ended there as well would pull down to the parked 2 car train and couple up. They would then take the 4 car train to Ruby Junction for the night and tie up. This practice ended a long time ago and I have seen no other record of this type of move anywhere. This video was shot at the west end of the westbound platform of Gresham City Hall station sometime in the 1990’s when the old Gresham lumber mill was still around across the tracks in the dark. Enjoy!

And for reference, the tail track at Cleveland, which is long enough to store a 2-car consist on each track, though it is not used very often these days:

Cleveland Tail Track


And now, back to your regularly scheduled (more or less) technical posts.

All about the announcements

“Pioneer Square. Doors to my left. TriMet ticket office and visitor information available weekdays. Bus and MAX service on 5th and 6th Avenues”

APACU, Type 2

AACP, Type 4

The audio and readerboard announcements and external signs on the trains (Types 2, 3, and 4) are controlled via the APACU in the train, or Automatic Passenger Announcement Control Unit. In the Type 1 trains, the external signs are all manually scrolled and there are no readerboards, but the audio announcements are still set through the APACU (which will also set the readerboards and signs in  your trailing Type 2 or Type 3). In the Type 4s it’s actually called the Automatic Announcement Control Panel, but since AACP isn’t an especially pronounceable acronym and I’m old and resistant to change, we’re sticking with APACU.

Excerpt from Blue Line Paddle

The APACU is typically programmed at the ends of the lines, though it can also be set mid-route when necessary. The above picture shows part of a paddle, or schedule, for a Blue Line train. The #99 refers to the route code used to get a train to Hatfield, and the 0019 refers to how you set the APACU to get Blue Line announcements for a westbound trip from Cleveland to Hatfield. For a route code, it doesn’t matter if I’m out at the airport, leaving the Elmonica Yard, or anywhere else- if I’m directed to go to Hatfield Gov Center, my route code will be 99. Doesn’t matter where I’m starting from. The APACU, on the other hand, is based both on where you are and where you are going. It is location-dependent where you’re starting from in order to announce all of the stops, so each of those destinations to Hatfield has a different APACU value.

Eastbound Blue Line, BTC Pocket track

An operator can reprogram the APACU along with the route code if their train gets rerouted so that their announcements match the new route. The above picture, which is a little hard to see in the dark, shows the pocket track at Beaverton Transit Center (which is typically used only by Red Line trains) with a Gresham-bound Blue Line in it. I forget exactly what the problem was the night I took this picture but westbound trains needed to do turnbacks at BTC, so Blue Line trains headed west to Hillsboro were directed into this track instead of the westbound mainline so they could turn back east. Even though this train was headed for Hillsboro when it came into Sunset TC, the route code was changed to send the train into the pocket track at BTC, and once the operator got here, the APACU was set to have the stop announcements match the eastbound movement back to Gresham.

This train is not in service

The route code and APACU codes are two different systems. Because they function separately, this is what allows an out-of-service train to go wherever it needs but keep a “NOT IN SERVICE” message on the external signs. And no internal announcements either for out-of-service trains – I remember that had been a bit of a shock for me when I was in training and we took out-of-service trains on the mainline for the first time to learn where the platforms were and when to begin braking for them. I had assumed that I could just listen for the announcement of an upcoming platform to start braking since I had made the association that the announcements usually come around the time that the train begins slowing down for a platform approach, but nope, no announcements when your APACU is set “Not In Service”. Had to learn where everything was without that kind of help!

So how does it work?

No GPS involved – the announcements work by counting how many times the wheels turn between platforms. In the older cars, the counter resets each time the doors are opened, and APACU won’t advance forward if the doors don’t open at the current platform. However, the Type 4 announcements will still advance forward even if the doors don’t open at a platform.

In the event of running reverse traffic (e.g. east in the westbound track) the APACU can tell that you’re approaching a platform but it doesn’t know enough to tell you that the doors are going to open on the other side of the train, so in those cases the operator will have to make a PA announcement to manually correct the error. This is a very infrequent occurrence.

On routes that change color or go out of service, the scrolling of the external signs happens automatically. For example, if you’re on a Yellow or Green train headed south toward PSU, the signs will automatically start scrolling to Out of Service after you leave City Hall/SW Jefferson with no action required on the part of the operator. When they get into the turnaround at Jackson, they’ll set both the route code and APACU for where their train is scheduled to go next.

On the Type 4s, that square with a circle in it…

… theoretically should indicate that the train changes color (e.g. from a Red Line to a Blue Line at Gateway because it will go to Willow Creek or Hatfield, not terminate at Beaverton TC), but yes, sometimes a 4 will display that only on one of the LED boards or in a context that makes no sense:

Red square, nothing in the circle to… Expo?

Could be the result of a random error, from taking power under a section isolator, the phase of the moon, etc. I was joking about the phase of the moon part.  Mostly. The 4s will also sometimes display a self-test error on one or more of the LED signs.

The 2s and 3s will get their share of announcement errors as well. Sometimes the audio announcements will be fine but the readerboards will be stuck on a stop, or one of the exterior signs gets stuck. You can try resetting the APACU, but that doesn’t always work for everything. The good news is that it doesn’t affect how the train runs until a mechanic is able to fix it.

Sign stuck between two red signs… on a Yellow Line train

This will be a new platform opening Spring 2012


I am so sick of hearing people who have never driven a bus or operated a train in their lives go on about how extravagantly generous operator health benefits are. They’ve never actually done the work and therefore have no comprehension of the physical demands of the job or the health impact it has. The detrimental health effect of being a transit operator is not a matter of opinion. There is an extensive body of research on the health risks of the job and strong links between working as a transit operator and increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and chronic illnesses. And that’s the reason why the union had negotiated to have a higher emphasis on benefits than hourly wages – things like raises had been turned down in the past in favor of maintaining health benefits to mitigate those risks.

Yes, benefits are high in comparison to wages for TriMet operators, but overall wages are lower than other transit districts (e.g. TriMet bus operators make between $13.83 – $25.13 hourly, King County Metro bus operators in Seattle range $19.93 – $28.47 hourly). And yes, non-union workers at TriMet pay more for health care than union workers, but considering (as a whole), non-union workers are more likely to be working in a climate-controlled office environment during normal business hours and not in safety-sensitive positions whereas union workers work in all weather conditions at all times of the day in safety-sensitive positions, I don’t think that health care is an unreasonable part of union worker compensation.

Several months ago, TriMet lost a ruling by the Employee Relations Board where the union had filed an Unfair Labor Practice against TriMet for unilaterally making changes to the arbitration offer away from the bargaining table. That’s not the way these things are supposed to work – TriMet should have presented the proposed changes to the union as part of negotiations prior to inserting them in the arbitration offer, and the ERB agreed with the union’s complaint, so TriMet is now required to remove those changes. That’s how the law works. It’s funny (not really) how TriMet is asking the Employee Relations Board to reconsider its ruling. Despite the budget shortfall and putting “everything on the table” for consideration, well, we can’t touch anything related to Portland Milwaukie rail (including Uncanny Bambi), and spending close to half a million dollars to hire four executives & managers, well, those are “mission critical.” But scapegoating the union for the budget shortfall (when, let’s be honest here, if TriMet didn’t violate state law in the first place, that decision wouldn’t have happened) is apparently fair game. Why is that contract & working relationship not given the same immunity as the public art budget?

I mean, here’s a thought – can we maybe agree that taking care of the men and women who keep the system running is “mission critical”?

You wouldn’t have known this because it wouldn’t be in the news, but a rail operator passed away last week.  Another rail operator had passed away earlier this summer, and several other operators have died over the last few years – we’re not talking “died in an accident” or “of old age”, we’re talking people in their 50s dying from cancer, heart attack, stroke. Again, maybe the public wouldn’t be so quick to say that operator benefits are overly generous if it were their friends and coworkers dying every few months. Seriously, can anyone else name at least seven of their coworkers who died over the last 3 years?  Because I can name seven rail operators. And let me tell you, being able to do that really sucks.

But because there’s no mainstream coverage of operator health issues… sheesh, even TriMet’s official releases don’t back operators up (the most recent one blames the union negotiations for the budget shortfall), all that comes out is the public saying that the union’s “free ride” should be over, or the “union pigs should stop feeding at the trough”, or “since times are tough, operators should be sharing the pain along with everyone else.”

Oh I’m sorry, is seven dead operators not “sharing the pain” enough for you?