MAX FAQs is a blog about the TriMet MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) light rail system in Portland, Oregon. It is not an official publication of TriMet, the Amalgamated Transit Union – Local 757, or Portland & Western Railroad. Information presented here should not be interpreted as official policy of any of the aforementioned organizations.

Topics within the blog include frequently asked questions about light rail vehicles, signaling, track and switch types, alignment features, operational policies, safety safety safety, communications, and more.

20 responses to “About

  1. I have a question regarding the MAX radio channels and was wondering if you have knowledge (from an operator’s perspective) of the system?

  2. Hey, this is a brilliant idea. I’m working on a new wiki (and a print monthly) about PDX low-car life in general, but I want to get lots of MAX info on that. We should totally work together — my goal is to make it a resource local blogs find worth linking to. Drop me a line at michael / portlandafoot / org.

    See also http://trimetdown.swiftreport.net/ if you haven’t.

  3. Tom Fairchild

    I will be in the Portland area next Monday and Tuesday (6/20-21). What should I see and with whom should I speak to experience Portland transport?

    As you can see with our mission statement below – we are creating the Mobility Lab as a means to further transportation discussion in the DC region – and across the state of Virginia. I look fwd to seeing firsthand transportation programming in Portland.

    I look forward to hearing from you!


    Mobility Lab nurtures innovations to a fundamental requirement of human life: transportation. It is a place of collaboration, education and continuous improvement for moving people in more healthy, efficient and sustainable ways. Mobility Lab is a joint initiative of Arlington County Commuter Services and the Virginia Department of Rail & Public Transportation.

    Editor’s note: Commenter’s personal contact information was removed from this comment prior to approving it for publication, otherwise the comment was unedited

    • And I’d responded to this comment via email, but for anyone else traveling to Portland and wanting to experience public transit here, my suggestions:
      Ride, ride, ride! Don’t just stick to downtown either if you really want to see what transit is like here – try a combination of some of the long workhorse bus lines (4, 72, 12, 20) as well as the quieter lines outside of the downtown core. For rail, MAX downtown is more like a streetcar so you don’t really get the full picture if you only ride the Free Rail Zone. Streetcar doesn’t change much operationally over the course of its route, and WES only runs during commute hours so that might not be the most convenient thing for tourists to see, but they’re both worth checking out to complete the rail trifecta.

      I’d also recommend checking out the Transit Blogger links to the right. Most (though not all) have a TriMet focus and give a number of different perspectives of transit in Portland.

  4. I just visited Portland, and I’ve come to like the light rail network after a quick day trip in which I rode the the lower half of the streetcar to the Waterfront area, the entire Green and Red Lines, and the Blue line to Hillsboro. Admittedly, most of the signalling pages answered some questions about how the operations practices, but I’m left with one question, does MAX use cab signalling? Here in New York Metro, we have two complimenting light rail systems, one built in the 1920s and upgraded, and one that opened in 2000, and both feature cab signalling with audio frequency track circuits, and we run express service utilizing a reverse running express service.

    And I’ll commend the operators for being professional, and rather good sports about being photographed by railfans. A few even waved at me. :-)

    • Glad you enjoyed your time on MAX! No, there is no cab signaling on this system. I think the WES commuter rail might use something similar to that, but I’ve never operated one of those so I don’t really understand how their signals work.
      And the photography happens a lot so I think most operators are used to it. People from all over the world take pictures of the trains (and, by proxy, the operators too!)

  5. Why do some MAX drivers ride the brakes when the train is slowing down? Don’t they realize how the passengers that are standing are affected by the decrease in speed?

    • Could be a few things… one is just basic skill & some operators are better than others at providing a smooth ride. That’s not necessarily an experience thing either – some high seniority operators are pretty rough & some newcomers are fantastic. And sometimes it could just be the particular train that you’re on isn’t handling well, regardless of who the operator is.

  6. Excellent article on Fare Inspectors, Rail and Road Supervisors. Thanks

  7. Love this blog, spent the last two days reading all of the posts. Learned quite a lot. Have a couple questions, the first, why so long since the last post? Quite busy as of late? I was sad when I ran out of things to read. Second, a question about the operators. I do the fairgrounds to 11th and llyod run every day since I live in hillsboro and work next to Llyod Center. My question is, what happens when you suddenly need to use the bathroom?

    • Thanks for the comment! Yeah, I’ve had a lot going on, but more posts will be forthcoming.. eventually…
      As for the bathroom, aka “a comfort break”, you basically radio in to Control that you need a comfort break, and get to a location that either has a break room (e.g. Rose Quarter, BTC) or a porta-potty to use. It doesn’t happen very often since it causes a delay for you to leave & lock the cab, leave the train, do your thing and come back (and everyone on your air, especially the train behind you, will know the delay is because you had to use the can!), but sometimes that’s the only thing you can do!

  8. Has Trimet considered express trains that don’t stop at all stations? I live on the outer east side but work in Hillsboro and don’t take Max because it would take too long.

    • That wouldn’t work on the existing alignment since there’s no place to pass trains that would stop at all stops. I know that’s been a fairly major complaint people have, particularly travel times through downtown where MAX is more of a streetcar than a train, functionally speaking (frequent stops and low speeds) but there’s not really any way that express trains at only certain stations could be done presently.

  9. Excellent blog. I’d love to see a post about how the recent electrical vault fire downtown has affected MAX trains going through downtown PDX. I saw in a news release that the trains have to stop before every intersection. Is tha because the Pre-empts are offline along with traffic signals (just like back a while ago with the car that hit a utility box)? Love the blog!

    • Right. Normally if a pre-empt isn’t working properly, then you can SOP the intersection on a fresh parallel green light. However, since this incident also made traffic signals dark, there were no green lights so the intersections were treated like 4-way stops – but now with added trains!

      Anyway, welcome aboard! Feel free to poke around especially in the older posts that cover more of the technical information that are the basic building blocks to understanding a lot of things in the more recent posts.

  10. LOL You have your own metor shower now!!

    Camelopardalis Meteor shower debates tonight! Woot woot!

  11. I have a question concerning the rails. I have noticed that when on the yellow line after leaving delta park towards City Center, on the bridge it looks like the tracks have a third rail which is rust brown color to the left side. My question, is this rail for electricity for power to the train or does it have a different purpose. I know there are also overhead wires over the bridge too so that is what leaves me wondering.

  12. I was wondering what an operator does if a fight or something similar happens on his or her train?

    • When that happens (whether you see it yourself or a passenger reports it), you call Control on the radio. They’ll ask for more information – such as where on the train the fight is occurring, the number of people involved, physical descriptions, etc. Then Control will call the supervisor in that district to head toward the train and meet it if the train is holding, or just meet up with it at one of its next stops. If anything like weapons are involved or it’s very severe, the police will also be called, but it’s not uncommon for minor scuffles or the random obnoxious person to leave the train & TriMet property before the supervisor even gets there.

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