Corrosion? No, TriMet, I think you just spelled “corruption” wrong

We all remember that MAX train that went down the Banfield with a door open, right? Which is not how the train is supposed to work – if your doors are open and you try to take power to move the train forward, the doors will close. The interlock should prevent the train from moving if any doors remain open.

opendoorbanfieldDoor open, train still moving

For some reason, this door stayed open between the Hollywood and Lloyd Center platforms, but no cause had been identified until last Friday afternoon, when TriMet issued a press release that the cause of the door’s malfunction had been determined:

bridgeplate corrosion

That would be great except for one thing – that door doesn’t have a bridgeplate. The incident happened in a Type 2, and like all other low-floor cars in the fleet, bridgeplates are located at doors 3, 4, 5, and 6 near the middle of the train on both sides. The doors closest to the ends of the train (1, 2, 7, and 8) do not have bridgeplates. They aren’t missing or corroded, they are just not there by design. It’s impossible that there was excessive corrosion on a bridgeplate mechanism in that door because there is no mechanism there to corrode in the first place.

Type 2 with bridgeplates outType 2 with bridgeplates out. Notice the middle doors have them but the doors near the ends of the car do not

What does our executive director of safety have to say about this?

saporta is corroded

Yeah, the corrosion on that switch was apparently so severe that the switch and bridgeplate are just GONE. Let me give you an analogy for how mind-blowingly confusing TriMet’s official statement is:

bikeTriMet would tell you that this cat’s bicycle is showing the same advanced corrosion as the bridgeplate switch

Now while the major media sources I’ve seen so far are just parroting back that the issue was due to corrosion on that door’s bridgeplate switch, many people are realizing this doesn’t add up. You don’t need to be an expert in the trains to notice that the doors near the upper deck seating of the train don’t have bridgeplates. One of my astute blog readers picked right up on it, other bloggers and Twitter users caught it too. That explanation seems to just be made up.

door cutoutDID NO ONE THINK TO CHECK THE BRIDGEPLATE?? Actually that’s going to be my new excuse for everything. Signal went dark? Probably a corroded bridgeplate switch. TVM not working? Most likely due to bridgeplate corrosion. Fight on the train? Yeah, that pesky bridgeplate corrosion again. 

But hey! Let’s not miss an opportunity to blame the union! In other words, let’s look at this part at the end of the press release that has NOTHING to do with the door issue:

union blaming

Do you like how those goalposts have been moved? TriMet used to call the union benefits  “some of the most generous in the transit industry” – now that’s been bumped up to THE most generous benefits in the entire COUNTRY. Hoo-wee!

Once again, TriMet non-union benefits aren’t too shabby either. Will we mention those as a cost-cutting measure? Course not.

non union rates

Must be hard being an executive at TriMet, not getting a raise on some of the most generous salaries in the transit industry after three years? I’d say “no disrespect to office workers” here, but you know what? If you’re offended by my belief that people who work all hours of the day all days of the year in all weather conditions in hot/noisy/dirty/hostile environments should get health care that compensates for that, and that the people making 6-figure salaries working in climate controlled environments with weekends, evenings, and holidays off paying less than $100/month to insure their entire family don’t exactly have room to complain that the union health benefits (for which union employees pay higher premiums per month than the non-union employees) are “too generous”, you and I just aren’t going to see eye-to-eye.

And hey, ATU would be happy to negotiate when TriMet agrees to full transparency by letting the sessions be open to the public. Because funny enough, there’s been a lot of instances such as this explanation of a bridgeplate problem in a door that has no bridgeplate, last-minute fixes of long-standing alignment problems right before an inspection, and  stealth raises to executives while crying poverty and blaming the union that have us all kind of thinking that TriMet can’t exactly be trusted to be transparent.

Anyway, back to the door issue. I’m really stumped here. If whoever looked at the door was not able to replicate the problem, the correct response would be to just say so, and maybe dedicate more resources to monitoring the condition of the doors. I find it next to impossible to believe that a mechanic said the problem was because of a bridgeplate-related issue in that door (and even if a mechanic DID say that, that no one else involved in the process said “Hey guys? This door doesn’t have a bridgeplate.”)

Who knows what actually caused it? Maybe whoever grabbed the door bumped it in such a way that the interlock registered it as closed. Maybe some connection in there was loose anyway and the person trying to get in just broke it all the way. Even if the cause were a problem with a bridgeplate in another door of that car that might have affected the interlock system for the whole car (I don’t even know if that’s possible), then the press release should have stated THAT. Because if what the press release said is the complete and final answer, and TriMet is going to say it was a bridgeplate problem in that specific door, then we still don’t know what actually did it and we’re not going to be able to prevent it from happening again as long as the explanation is to technobabble an answer that has no basis in the mechanical reality of that door.

I can’t tell if this is intentional deception and assuming the public is too dumb to question why the explanation involves a component that isn’t part of that door, or just plain old-fashioned incompetence. Either way, it’s incredibly disappointing of TriMet, and it’s also disappointing that they take a safety issue as an opportunity to throw slurs at the union.

(and if someone wants to provide pictures of the corroded bridgeplate switch in the mechanisms of that particular door, please do so! All the other rail personnel that I batted this one around with don’t see how TriMet’s official explanation makes any sense given what we know about the construction and operation of the trains, so if you want to use this opportunity to give us all a learning experience, we’re open to it.)

18 responses to “Corrosion? No, TriMet, I think you just spelled “corruption” wrong

  1. Great point on both accounts of the misdirection/redirection to throw mud at the Union – which they already have the upper hand in since the budget is the budget. They’re either going to have to make the cuts, or we’re going to lose out. UNLESS things change, which heaven forbid the economy improves or something of that sort. I’m not a big fan of Trimet (or any Government agency) to determine future estimates past about 3-6 months. They’re talking about 2-3 YEARS from now!! Anyway, back to the doorplate issue…

    The excuse is purely bullshit and screams of either A: incompetance, B: assumption the public are idiots and will just listen to what they’re told, which likely is exactly what will happen unless a larger news source drums up the facts or C: They’re just babbling stuff hoping that it’ll blow over and life will continue… however…

    The most likely excuse is that it flaked one time. That’s ONE time out of thousands upon thousands of opening and closing actions. Which of course makes it – as you pointed out – absurdly difficult if not impossible to determine. As you pointed out, the best answer would have been to tell the truth and state, “we weren’t able to duplicate this issue” and we’re doing “X” to monitor the doors more closely.

    The rust thing is a total red herring.

  2. Here is a thought:
    How hard would it be to ‘cheat’ the switch as is likely done during some types of maintenance?

  3. *Cheating a switch is done oftentimes during maintenance so that you can operate a device with a door open.
    Examples are technicians working on Photocopiers, or any device which normally only runs with all doors closed.

    • There is a bypass switch that can be used to operate a train with a door open. However, those bypasses are sealed, so the operator would have had to break the seal to use it. Verifying that the seals are there is part of the ground inspection done before a train is taken out of the yard, and had the operator broken the seal to use the bypass, it would have been noticed. So while such an option is possible (used when a train needs to be moved but a door cannot be closed, and ALWAYS with passengers offloaded), that wasn’t what happened here.

  4. TriMet never misses an opportunity to get free publication for their anti union message. It’s just another example of TM being transparent and forthcoming to the public. Thankfully, they are not an airline.

  5. So if it were broken after the inspection by say… a disgruntled worker or as a prank of some sort (for instance), would TriMet even tell anyone?
    The official story is so full of bs already… ijs

    • I doubt that would happen, I haven’t seen any of the reports of the incident but I’d assume that the bypass seals would’ve been re-checked when the car was taken out of service and that would’ve been recorded.

  6. *should have been recorded and reported on. I agree!
    At some point, I have to second guess most of everything that a department like TriMet has said (with a track record like they have been making for themselves).

  7. Weren’t the emergency call boxes broken on that car as well? If so, that might be related.

  8. “””Do you like how those goalposts have been moved? TriMet used to call the union benefits ”some of the most generous in the transit industry” – now that’s been bumped up to THE most generous benefits in the entire COUNTRY. Hoo-wee!”””
    ~~~>The people in charge of Trimet are scum, pure scum

  9. TriMet has edited the press release to read:
    “However, they did find excessive corrosion on a switch inside a bridgeplate, or ramp, mechanism on one of the train’s doors.

    I believe that this was the only thing they found on the train that could have even possible caused the problem, even though it was a different door.

    I’d merely chalk the mistake up to a PR flak who doesn’t actually understand what she’s writing about.

  10. Thanks! Love the blog, by the way. Especially the technical stuff. I’m pretty sure I’ve bored my family for hours with material from this blog. Keep on writing!

  11. Pingback: Trimet – How Much Corrosion is in Joe Rose’s Head? | Portland Transit Lane

  12. I don’t for a second think they have the slightest idea what caused the problem.
    They made up something and the PR hack may may not have made an error.
    They make it up as they go along ya know

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