Monthly Archives: March 2012

One lucky cyclist. And by lucky, I mean an idiot.

Nearly a “train vs cyclist” incident

Last week, a cyclist on Burnside nearly got hit during the classic one-two-punch where a train in one direction blocks the view of a train going the other direction. The good news is, if you obey traffic signals including crosswalk signs, you run no risk of being hit by a train in a situation like that because you will have a red light and a “don’t walk” sign. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work if you’re a dumbass who ignores warning devices. This is also unfortunate for three passengers on the train who sustained minor injuries as a result of the the hard stop caused by the operator using emergency braking to avoid the cyclist.

The story was picked up by the Oregonian, complete with video from the train, as the Type 4s have nice forward-facing cameras. Some of the comments on the Oregonian article were… actually rather surprising. A few people didn’t seem to think this was that big of a deal,  saying that the cyclist was “obviously stopping” and “would have waited for the train to pass if the driver had not chosen to stop”, and others feeling that this story was unfairly targeting cyclists.

No, let me tell you something:


Unsafe behavior around the trains is not limited to cyclists. I have seen plenty of stupid actions by people on foot, by people driving cars, and yes, people on bikes. This particular incident wasn’t targeting cyclists, however it was a recent event where people on a train were injured, and a cyclist happened to be the cause. Oblivious people are going to do stupid things around trains regardless of what form of transportation they use. In this case, it was a cyclist. Tomorrow it might be something else. I’m not going to say this guy is representative of all cyclists, but I will say that he’s representative of the boneheaded things people do around the trains.

Video by punkrawker4783 showing pedestrians & drivers acting unsafely

As for this not being that big of a deal? With all due respect, you watched a video in an article titled “Bicyclist prompts emergency MAX train stop in Gresham.” You knew what this video was going to show and you were watching for it. And that’s sort of like watching Titanic where you know what’s going to happen (SPOILER ALERT: The boat sinks) so it’s not a surprise when you see it. But consider this from the operator’s perspective for a moment, who didn’t know that this was going to happen at that intersection.

As an operator, you are aware that every single time you pass a train stopped at a platform on the mainline, there is a chance that someone is going to run around the back of it into the path of your train. You also know that cars waiting to turn left – like the one in the video – might run that light. So you reduce your speed (as the operator of that train did) because of those chances, but you never know that this intersection is going to be the one where someone darts out in front of you. But when it happens, you are going to brake hard to bring the train to a stop to avoid hitting them.

Diagram of a Type 4’s cab from the outside. The camera is located at #7

Consider too that the video from the train shows a view that is from a fisheye lens mounted close to the windshield near the top of the glass, so you’ve got a great field of vision in the video. Compare that to the operator’s eyes, which are not fisheye lenses and are situated much lower and further back from the windshield than the camera. Additionally, those pillars on either side of the windshield form a considerable visual barrier:

Left-side pillar in a Type 4

So the view you see in the video shows the cyclist – who you were expecting to see – likely before he entered the field of vision of the operator (who was not expecting to see him). And yes, suddenly seeing someone heading into the path of your moving train is a big deal. People have been killed doing the exact thing this cyclist did. To state the obvious, trains don’t swerve. You have a split second to react and hit the brakes when you see someone who isn’t paying attention and is on a collision course with you, and that’s all you can do – you’re not going to keep going, assuming that they will stop.

To the person who said to train MAX operators not to use the emergency brake… are you serious? Emergency braking on the Type 4s is explicitly covered during Type 4 training – when I did mine a few years ago, we took a 4 onto the test track at Ruby, brought it up to 35 mph, and used the emergency brake to practice both using it and recovering out of it in a controlled setting before encountering situations like this. And yes, the emergency brake is a hard stop, even harder if you’re using it at a low speed. But what other option is there? Run the risk of killing someone who isn’t paying attention?

Operators are not mind readers. I see a cyclist heading on a collision course with a train, and my instinct is to stop the train, not to assume that he’s going to wait for me and then cross behind the train. I can’t tell if he’s obliviously ignorant or intentionally suicidal, but I’m not going to waste a lot of time mulling it over, I’m going to do what I can to not hit him.You don’t put your faith in someone incapable of obeying a red light/don’t walk sign to have the intelligence to get out of the way.

Incoming westbound train, Millikan Way

Some people suggested putting up mirrors in areas where the view of a train might be obstructed. Those are already in place in a few areas of the alignment, such as the above picture taken at Millikan Way. However, similar to crossing gates, warning lights, and don’t walk signs, these won’t help you if you willfully ignore them.

Oh, and one more thing?

Among other things, reading was not this gentleman’s strong point

Yeah, riding your bicycle is not permitted on the train platforms in the first place. Had someone been doing code enforcement on that platform at that time, he could’ve been looking at a $175 citation (or more) before getting the chance to put himself – and others – in harm’s way.

Conga line

Westbound trains were delayed Friday due to a switch issue by Beaverton Transit Center. There are three power switches to get into or out of the pocket track from the east, and the one farthest to the left in that picture was not throwing properly, so rail supervisors were on scene to manually throw the switch and direct trains safely through the area. I was off work and downtown when all of this was going on and from what I could see the operators were doing everything they could – getting on the PA to announce the reason for the delay and apologize for the inconvenience. Surprisingly, given how backed up everything was, no official service alert was released. Of course, people weren’t happy about the delay or being stopped for a while only to proceed up to the next platform and then stop again.

Not a great time to be operating, but a good topic for blogging…

Things were very backed up – this conga line of trains at every platform on Morrison is the result of that issue way out by BTC. If you look closely, you can see there is a Type 4 up at Galleria, then another train at Pioneer, then this train next to me at the Mall/5th platform, and another train behind it at 3rd/Morrison.

A common complaint I was hearing was that passengers didn’t understand why the trains were stopped where they were – can’t they keep moving, even if slowly? There are a couple of reasons why trains were holding where they were. One: stopping away from platforms is something to avoid whenever possible. Passengers can get a little agitated and uncomfortable being on a train that isn’t moving, and it’s dangerous for them to pull the emergency door release to leave the train away from a platform – first because that can likely put them in the path of a train coming in the other direction or vehicle traffic (depending on your location), and second because even the low-floor train cars have a drop to the ground if you’re not at a platform. So it’s preferable for stopped trains to hold at platforms with their doors open or on release which allows people to leave the train safely.

Two: west of Goose Hollow is ABS territory. To review:

ABS diagramDiagram of ABS signals

The direction of travel is from left to right. On the top part of the image, a green signal indicates that there are two open blocks (that is, the space between the signal in front of you and the signal after that one, AND the space between that signal and the one after it both are clear of trains). In the middle part of the image, the yellow signal indicates that there is one open block between  you and the train in front of you. The bottom part with a red signal indicates that the train in front of you is in that block. If the block in front of you is occupied, you CANNOT proceed into it. The block system and associated ATS magnets work to keep the trains spaced at a safe distance and prevent collisions.

So even though there appears to be more than adequate space for all of these trains to have rolled through downtown and waited behind each other on the alignment just east of Beaverton TC to proceed through, multiple trains cannot safely occupy the same ABS block. Additionally, since it’s safest to have the trains holding at platforms whenever possible, it’s better to have the trains stacked up here than at each ABS signal along the west side where there is no safe way for people to exit the train if they’re not at a platform.

Conga line of trains proceeding through downtown, monitored by supervisors

Two years later

Posts like this are a good excuse for these sort of non-sequitur images

MAX FAQs has been around for two years now, and just about everything I said this time last year still applies. I still like sharing rail-related information and putting it out there for people who want to learn more about MAX at TriMet or light rail in general. As I’ve said before, I figure that if you’re taking the time to read about the trains and learn how the system works, you’re not going to be that person who does something stupid around them. So I do what I can to help show people a different perspective than the public generally sees, and it’s really nice in turn to see that a lot of people are interested in the topic. Everybody wins!

I still skim Twitter for rail-related questions/complaints, and although MAX FAQs is not an official TriMet publication, it’s handy having a resource to link to when some of the common questions are asked (e.g. “Why is TriMet running a single-car train during rush hour?” or “When does MAX stop running?“). Some other questions that people ask don’t have answers in posts here (yet), but on the whole Twitter has been a great place for MAX questions and conversations, both the serious and the silly.

It’s been neat seeing where MAX FAQs is turning up online: someone cited my post about track layouts as a reference on Wikipedia; over at Reddit in a thread about the multi-vehicle accident a few nights ago that didn’t involve MAX trains but blocked the right of way, someone said they had just been reading a MAX blog about the dangers of inattentive people around trains. And in the top searches of the past year, people are now finding my blog by name! “max faqs” and “maxfaqs” were at the top of the list of the most frequent search engine terms that brought people here, along with “pantograph“, “automatic train stop” and amusingly enough, “service horses“.

Overall it has been a good year. Year 1 had been a lot of basic intro-level stuff (and if you’re new to the blog or rail, a lot of those things like the types of trains or all the different signals are also linked at the top of the blog as a good starting point for things that come up in more recent posts). In the past year I built on a lot of those original posts for more detailed Q&As (the signals around Rose Quarter, how trains know where to go, etc). And yes, I’ve also taken to writing about the budget issues including the ongoing contract saga between TriMet and ATU 757.  It’s not directly train related, but similar to the rail stuff, I think it’s a perspective that the public should be able to see. That topic also led to a fantastic guest post by a contributing author to MAX FAQs (and like I said last year, I didn’t set out with the intent for this to be a one-man show, so the input and thoughts of other operators, controllers, supervisors, managers, etc that read here are also welcome).

Now some site stats, to compare with next year:

  • 65,724 site visits
    • In all of March 2010 I had 349 visits, which is less than I got on just March 1 of this year.
  • 156 posts (up from 100 – my posting rate apparently dropped significantly over this past year)
  • I’ve uploaded 888 images
  • 784 comments (up from 375)
  • 2451 spam comments (up from 572). Some of them are pretty fantastic, even as far as spam goes:

This has nothing to do with storage tracks. And yet, it’s not like what they said is inaccurate…

Rules, train orders, and more gets more spam than any other post, no idea why. I liked this one in particular because no one has ever described me as “Reasonably unusual” before, but I think it actually fits.

Anyway, thank you all for your interest, comments, and questions. Looking forward to the next year!

Clear track. Have a good day out there.

Rail operation in the news

Really nice segment about MAX operation done by KATU.

Watch it, love it, show it to all your friends. It’s so rare for the public to be able to get any glimpse of “what it’s like” to be a rail operator, so I’ve been looking forward to KATU publishing this story. And Pat is easily one of the best ambassadors I can think of for this job. He and I have talked before about how there needs to be more outreach for the public to see things from this perspective – both in terms of safety and just for a general “here’s why things work the way they do”.  But there’s a limited number of things that we are able to do on our own, so any big news coverage like this is fantastic.