Rush hour trippers

I was recently asked on Twitter why some Blue Line trains in the morning and at night go to Merlo, Elmonica, or Ruby Junction instead of all the way to Cleveland Ave or Hatfield Gov Center. Since Ruby Junction and Elmonica are the two yards where trains are stored when not in use, several runs will end such that the train can pull into the yard from the adjacent platform. Other runs will go to the ends of the line where the operator will clear the cars out and run the train out of service back to the yard.

During rush hour, there are a number of “tripper” trains that essentially function to get people to either downtown or slightly beyond, but they don’t run the entire length of the Blue Line. The frequency of trains during rush hour means that if someone’s destination is beyond where the tripper goes, a train to the end of the line will generally be only a few minutes behind it. However, these trains work well for most commuters’ destinations.

Morning rush hour tripper as it appears on TriMet’s webpage…

…and the paddle for that same train,
which runs only from one yard to the other


In the morning rush hour, westbound tripper trains have overhead signs to “Merlo/SW 158th.” At this platform, the operator will clear the cars of passengers and then bring the train into the yard. The signal for westbound trains at Merlo allows for a choice of routes – a normal route on the mainline to the Elmonica platform or a diverging route into the Elmonica yard.

Out of service and into the yard, westbound from Merlo

The rest of the signs would say “Not in Service” but Type 1s have to be manually scrolled, so this still shows how it was set at the beginning of the trip.

This is somewhat different during the evening rush hour, when more people are heading out of the city than into it. One of the ways passengers are accommodated in the evening rush is by westbound Red Line trains turning into Blue Lines to Elmonica, Willow Creek, or Hatfield, allowing them to get farther west than Beaverton TC.


These trains run with overhead signs to “Gateway TC,” “Ruby Jct/197th,” or “City Center.” The “City Center” train is the one in the morning that goes east from Hatfield to Old Town/Chinatown, into Interstate/Rose Quarter, out of service up to the Broadway Siding, and then back to Merlo and into the yard as shown above. Despite the announcements that start downtown and tell passengers that the last stop for this train is IRQ and all passengers must exit (there is no platform in the Broadway Siding and no safe place for passengers to exit the train), without fail passengers ask “Aren’t you a Yellow Line to Expo?” at IRQ because this is the only scheduled train that makes a move like this.

View from the Broadway Siding – this train will go west from here to Merlo and then into the Elmonica Yard

The Gateway-bound trains are like regular Blue Line trains from Hatfield through 82nd Ave. From 82nd Ave, they go into the auxiliary track at Gateway through the pocket track, where all passengers will exit since there is no platform for them to safely exit the train in the auxiliary track. Those trains will then go west from the auxiliary track back to Merlo, where they will pull into the Elmonica yard.

The Ruby Junction trains will run as far east as the eastbound platform at Ruby/197th. Once there, the operator will clear the train of passengers and then bring the train into the yard for storage. Similar to the ABS signal at Merlo, the signal here also allows for a choice of routes to either continue east or into the yard.

Signal 120, eastbound at Ruby will show a red over yellow for trains heading into the yard

There are some other oddities with scheduling that people have questioned, like the westbound “Blue to Gateway TC” trains that are actually trains that leave the Ruby yard and run in service down Burnside to Gateway. At Gateway, the operator will swap cabs and continue to Clackamas as a Green Line as pictured.

I’ve posted this picture before – a Green Line that had come in from Burnside sits in the auxiliary track at Gateway. It will wait for that Red Line coming off the fishhook to go through the pocket track first. After the Red Line is gone, the Green Line will pull in to the pocket track, and the operator will swap cabs and call a route for Clackamas from there. This process is reversed in the evening, where a Green Line from Clackamas will pull into the pocket track and call a route for Gresham (technically the Ruby yard, but either way that requires going on the eastbound mainline) and continue back to Ruby. Similarly, Yellow Lines from Expo that are yardbound will call a route (no picture of that signal aspect handy) at IRQ that will send them through Rose Quarter and back to Ruby instead of the typical Yellow Line route over the Steel Bridge to downtown.

21 responses to “Rush hour trippers

  1. The scheduling junkie in me has to ask: On the paddle for block 9011, what does the “YL2” mean between Ruby Yard and E197th station?

  2. Every morning as I wait for my 6:14 Blue Line, I watch the apparently-westbound train pull in and switch to a Green Line running in the opposite direction out of Gateway. I always feel like I should have my camera ready to capture the occasional shocked face of the passenger who stayed on and found themselves reversing direction. Classic.

    Great post, as always. Makes me realize I haven’t written any transit stuff for weeks and weeks.

    • Oh yeah, and people ask “Doesn’t this train go downtown?” to which the response is “Yeah, but not for almost another hour!” I do realize that things like where the yards are and how trains get from there to Clackamas aren’t really of interest to most passengers, so those types of moves can be very confusing when an unsuspecting passenger is on board.

      Anyway, thanks! And welcome back (and congratulations!)

      • Ideally operators would make announcements to head off the confusion.

        I was on a yard-bound train approaching Gateway from the airport where a person was worried if the train was going west or not when they heard the “transfer to Red Line” announcement.

        Also, they should consider updating the paddle names–“Rock(wood )TC” no longer exists.

  3. I’ve been on Blue Westbound trains that end at both Merlo and Elmonica and head to the yard. Why can’t all continue to Elmonica and then back into the yard? I’m guessing it might be because the operator at Elmonica wouldn’t have time to switch cabs before the train behind approached?

    • Yeah, I think that’s just a scheduling thing. I’m not really sure how the designations are made where to end westbound runs (like which trains from PDX will go all the way to Hatfield vs those that just go to Willow Creek and back into the yard), but I’m assuming a lot of it is arranged to have the least impact on the followers of those trains.

  4. On the paddle, why do some times have a + next to them and some not?

    And is “EvrtDavs” supposed to be Old Town?

    • The + sign means 30 seconds past the minute. TriMet buses are timed to the minute if you look at a bus paddle, but the trains are timed to 30 seconds. And yes, that’s Old Town/Chinatown.

  5. I’ve been wondering what they did with the train(s) that turn at Broadway Siding when they had the rail grinder parked there.

    Also, do you know if trains pulling out from Ruby to Gresham are indeed in service for that short trip? The Google Transit data shows the trip for e.g. train 3 (see ) and TriMet’s Trip Planner appears to too (see ). But neither of them show a stop at Civic Drive.

    And as I said before, it would be nice if they could schedule the Green Line turns at Gateway so they didn’t have to wait for the Red Line.

    • Yeah, those trains are in service. Not sure why that isn’t shown on transit tracker, but there are a few quirks with TT anyway-like sometimes the “scheduled time” given by that is off by a few minutes of the actual scheduled time. I’m assuming it’s not shown on the blue line schedule page because the duration of the trip is so short, unlike the trains that go WB from Elmo to Hatfield.

      Adding in because I forgot to finish this earlier-train 33 used Doubletree Siding instead of Broadway Siding to turn back.

  6. With all the trains moving from yard to yard, youd think if you were left downtown after 1, you wouldnt be stuck there till 4a.m. Something I really don’t understand. Just one 2:30 train along the empty system would probably be full of the night lifers. And people who had denny’s too late.

    • Possibly, but working it in to an operator’s schedule would be the tricky part to to both fit in an acceptable number of work hours for the run and to ensure the operator ends at the yard they start from!

      • Very true, sadly until trimet hires me i wont know much about the shift times. (Trust me I’m always trying to get in there. lol) But the way i think, just give the operator an early shift. i mean some of you guys get to work at 3 or 4 am right? Which is what I use to work. So if the operator / super, started there shift then, they’d just get off early. You could always ask ol’ neil to do it. Since he really cares about trimets performance! that and then hed have to join the union. lol.

        • Yes, the earliest operator shifts report shortly after 3am, Control shifts run through the night, and supervisor shifts nearly do (I think under normal schedules the latest of those get off at 2:30am and I know the earliest ones start at 3am, but some late night atypical supervisor shifts are added in the event of night work, ATS testing, etc that might run 7pm-3am or something like that) There are advantages to a break in revenue service, which allows maintenance to get done with minimal disruption, like the grinding work.
          But it would also be a scheduling issue to figure out – for example a straight Blue Line shift is about 4 round trips, but you need to have an operator end either at the yard where they start or an acceptable relief point (e.g. Gateway, BTC) So it’s not as simple as adding one last train, it’d need to be at least a full trip to get that operator back where they started. And then would this be just Blue or Yellow/Green too, or what about later trains to the airport, etc…?

  7. I think that for it being just a late run,we should think about where people would get stuck at. How many folks are at Parkrose TC after 10 p.m.? However I would understand the airport. I know people are always in Beaverton, especially with how close the last 57 is to the last blue line, or the fact that most people go downtown for late night fun from Beaverton to Downtown clearly for the nightlife, and graveyard workers. But I don’t see much past Gateway eastbound as that’s really residential, and since it gets much more urban sprawl north and south of the line there. Sure there’s downtown Gresham but, what’s open down there that late? North Portland I don’t see a need, I took a 12:22am to expo before and it was a ghost. Clackamas also with the exclusion of walmart, but that’s not nearly enough for a max. However, I have had to pay out the butt for a cab to the airport for an early plane. Same as back to downtown after landing late. Another note is the greyhound station downtown, some buses come in LATE. So the best Idea actually isn’t a blue line at all. To accommodate real needs, either a train from Beaverton to gateway, which would just be odd. or a Red Line. It’d supply the airport with a run for Red eye or early bird flights, and get the Party folks,and graveyard workers home to Beaverton or wherever without any trouble. Plus It’s a much shorter run. (clearly they would have to start from merlo, then make a round trip back from the airport, but that’s alot shorter than all the way to ruby.) Plus that includes some happy stragglers on the westside. Without it ending up a ghost train.
    Just have it around the 2-4 dead zone, only if maintenance isn’t an issue of course.
    What do ya think?

    • It’s an interesting idea, but I still wonder how the scheduling would work for that – were you thinking of tacking it on to the end of a late night piece, or the beginning of a morning one?

      • Probably easier if it was the beginning of a morning one with a fresh operator, whichever would be easier on them. As long as it’s in the dead zone, it’s worth it,

  8. It’s interesting to note that these tripper runs are often used as a means of transferring specific trains from one yard to the other. Sometimes this is to get a train that needs a particular maintenance procedure performed that one yard has specific tools or a specially trained REM mechanic for (so long as it’s still safe for passengers), or to maintain the balance of equipment types.

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