Tag Archives: rose quarter

Rose Quarter, revisited

I thought I’d do a post on the operational side of what’s going on around Rose Quarter after an out of control car careened into some signaling equipment last week, since the only side the public sees is pretty much just the loss of Transit Tracker and maybe noticing trains stopping more near Rose Quarter. A helpful primer on this would be the original post about Rose Quarter signals just to familiarize yourself with how this area works under normal operating conditions.

One of TriMet’s photos of the scene. Only one car was involved; the blue car in the background is a supervisor’s car that was narrowly missed by everything

The Impact’s Impact on Transit Tracker

Preface: I am not a signal tech and have nothing to do with Transit Tracker, so if anyone who has a better handle on this than me wants to step in and fill in the gaps/correct me if I’m wrong, please, by all means do so. For all the folks reading the news about this and subsequently wondering why Transit Tracker was routed through here or “stored” in this box, this wasn’t a mythical box that Transit Tracker lived in any more than your computer is a mythical box that the internet lives in. Transit Tracker for passengers is more of a nice little byproduct of what this box (and other signal relay boxes like it) did, not its primary purpose. To the best of my understanding, while Transit Tracker for bus is GPS-based (and therefore it was not affected), Transit Tracker for rail has been based on what circuit the train is in. The crash affected power to all of the intersections between Rose Quarter and OCC, and I know that’s affected the signals but I’m not sure the extent to which circuit detection was affected, but because Transit Tracker isn’t working I’m assuming that it was impacted. This is a centrally located section of the alignment that I am guessing is not getting standard data on train positioning, so the Transit Tracker method of locating trains to predict their arrival isn’t functional. Since ALL trains pass between these two platforms (remember that Yellow and Green are the same trains) all lines are affected.

I’m not above criticizing TriMet when I think they make bad decisions or plan things poorly, but I think this was unfortunately a situation in which there was no right thing that TriMet could have done that would have made everyone happy:

  • Some people are saying that sensitive equipment shouldn’t have been in a high-risk area. As far as I know, given that Rose Quarter was part of the original alignment (called Coliseum there), that box or something like it has probably been there since the mid 80s. But as a conservative estimate, we know that the equipment was 16 years old, so let’s say it’s been there since the mid 90s at the latest. This is the first time a car has come careening off of I-5 doing about 80mph ass over teakettle onto the platform, so I’m going to say that this isn’t really a high-risk area, it was the site of a freak accident. I have not heard of any other crashes in that area coming anywhere near close to where the box had been. Besides, it was tied to the alignment in that area – where else are you going to put it?
  • The equipment in the box was so old that replacement parts aren’t available. Fine, it’s old, but you know what? It worked. There’s probably a fair amount of infrastructure in use right now that’s equally old and not easily replaced (I think the fact that TriMet spokesperson Roberta Alstadt said that the delay in replacing it is due to finding something that can communicate with the rest of the system pretty much says that the rest of it, if it fails, can’t be easily replaced either). And just imagine the fits that people would throw if TriMet were to announce they were spending millions to retrofit rail equipment that would make Transit Tracker more reliable or fit all the rail cars with GPS as bus routes are being sliced and 20+ year old buses are on the road. Would replacing this before this incident happened have been the best use of TriMet’s limited money? How about putting GPS on the trains when the circuit location system works? Setting up bollards everywhere a car might fly into something? Yeah, it’d be nice to replace all of the old equipment but I think there are higher priorities for TriMet when it comes to replacing old equipment (e.g. BUSES) than this would have been.

Sure, the loss of Transit Tracker is probably annoying to commuters, but trains are still able to safely pass through this area with minimal delay. If anything, I think this shows a strength of rail in that while a fixed right of way is never going to be as flexible as a bus, there are still workarounds to even major issues like this to keep things moving. So now on to what’s going on here operationally:

Special Instruction 79

Those of you following along at home on the radio have probably heard a lot of trains calling in either from OCC westbound or Rose Quarter eastbound to follow special instruction (SI) 79. Remember that a special instruction is a temporary modification to operational rules that can be in effect for up to a year, versus a train order which expires after 24 hours.

The operationally relevant part of SI 79

And now, in English.

Eastbound trains must stop and call Control from Rose Quarter. For most trains, this will be from the eastbound main platform and signal 18G, though the SI is set up to allow for eastbound moves from the special events track, westbound main or trolley barn as well (for a review of those signals, refer to the previous post on Rose Quarter). Since the signals cannot be called normally through train-to-wayside communication to get a proper to proceed, the automatic train stop (ATS) magnet in the platform will be active and the train will be tripped if the operator tried to go.

ATS trip and bypass counter inside cab of train

Inside each train cab is an ATS counter like the one pictured, which records the number of times that cab was active (i.e., had an operator keyed in and moving forward) and tripped an ATS magnet as well as the number of times an operator has bypassed an ATS magnet. When you bypass a magnet (also referred to as “key-by”), you have 23 seconds to get past it without it stopping your train. Control keeps a record of the totals in these counters for each train car and cab – it prevents an operator from selectively bypassing an ATS magnet or from tripping and continuing without calling it in. You never bypass a magnet without direct authorization from Control first.

So the operator will tell the controller what car and cab they’re in, and what their new bypass number will be. When they have a fresh parallel walk sign on 1st Ave, they will bypass the magnet so they can proceed forward, ensuring that the switch (topmost one in that picture) is not set against the movement since this area does not currently have signal protection, and also ensure that the intersection is clear of any pedestrian or vehicle traffic. The instructions to stop at 2nd and 3rd and then proceed when safe are slightly different from the standard instructions to SOP an intersection, due to the lack of power at these intersections which means they aren’t displaying parallel green lights. Once into the OCC platform, normal operations can resume as points east were not affected by the crash.

Call board at OCC westbound.
There’s one of these at Rose Quarter eastbound as well.

Westbound the procedure is fairly similar. At the OCC platform, operators will call Control and report their car, cab, and new bypass number. The ATS magnet in this direction is up closer to 2nd Ave by signal 18A.

After getting permission from Control to proceed, trains can proceed when safe through 3rd Ave, which is is street immediately in front of OCC when facing west. They must then stop at 2nd to bypass the ATS at signal 18A, ensuring that those switches in the above picture are properly set for a move into the westbound track (or the special events track if directed there). Once at 1st Ave, the operator will make sure that Rose Quarter is clear and wait for a fresh parallel walk sign before continuing into the Rose Quarter platform and then proceeding as normal to all points west.

This special instruction will be in effect until everything through here is fixed, presumably over the next few weeks. Since all of the steps are packaged into the SI, it cuts down on the amount of radio transmissions for everyone – operators don’t have to call in for permission at each intersection after the initial call to Control, and controllers can grant permission to “follow SI 79” without needing to say all of the steps each time a train goes through here.

Window washer rope around pantograph (Photo by Jason McHuff, more here)

Now consider that the RQ-OCC issues were still going on yesterday and SI 79 was in effect when the window washer’s rope took out Red & Blue Line service downtown (which was pointed out to me was once again the unfortunate car 235) and a semi truck hit a Yellow Line train on Interstate, causing trains to be turned around at 7th or Jeld Wen or Jackson or where available.

Semi vs MAX, picture from Twitter

Yes, there were delayed trains and crushed loads for commuters, but the amount of effort required to keep anything moving at all when that many things go wrong is pretty phenomenal. I do think that there are a number of areas that TriMet needs to improve, such as getting word out to passengers in a more timely manner, not pulling in-service buses out in order to bus bridge (or at least not pulling as many – it leaves bus passengers stranded, puts a lot of strain on the buses left in service). But I still think that it’s good for the public to be able to see “behind the curtain”, so to speak, to get an idea of what’s involved on the back end to get people to their destinations when things go wrong.

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Rail and switch review

I found a picture that I’d taken a while ago of switches near Rose Quarter- it probably should have gone in my last post but I’ll put it here and make this a review post about switches and rail types. First: rail types.

Borrowed picture which shows cross-sections of both types of rail used on the MAX alignment: t-rail on the left, girder rail on the right. Girder rail is used in lower speed areas (CBD/downtown & Holladay, Washington Street in Hillsboro), and t-rail is used everywhere else. Along Interstate, the t-rail is embedded in pavement so it looks similar to girder rail. This picture shows the embedded rail on Interstate along with the crossover switches that are not embedded.

Here is the picture of Rose Quarter, where girder rail is what’s used:

Switches, looking east from the westbound platform at Rose Quarter

This picture shows the different routing options available on the eastern side of the Rose Quarter platform. The nearest track is the westbound mainline, the one diverging off to the left side of the picture leads to the trolley barn, the one that’s actually a straight route from the westbound mainline is the special events track, and the far track is the eastbound mainline. In this type of rail, the only way to tell how switches are set is by observing the switch points – while the ABS/combination signals associated with these switches tell you what the route is, it’s still necessary to observe that the switches are set properly.

West Ladder, Elmonica Yard

Compare the switches at Rose Quarter to these in the Elmo yard, facing the storage tracks. These t-rail switches are power switches, meaning they can be thrown remotely from the cab of a train, and they have switch indicators (green for switches set normal, yellow for switches set diverging – remember manual switches in t-rail use targets with the same colors). You can see how the color of the indicator matches how the switch points are aligned. Girder rail switches don’t have indicators like these to make it easier to tell how the switch points are set, but even with indicators it’s still always necessary to observe switch points – an indicator can be wrong, but switch points never are.

Rose Quarter

For reader Matt, who had asked about signals at Rose Quarter some 6 months ago and I’m finally writing about it. In other words, it’s a good thing “Professional Blogger / Fielder of Questions” isn’t what TriMet hired me to do.

The Rose Quarter interlocking is very complex (I’ve heard it’s one of the most complex in the country, but I don’t really have much of a basis for comparison). I’d wager it’s probably also one of the busiest, with trains passing through every few minutes. The complexity of this interlocking’s design allows for a lot of flexibility for trains in the event of a bridge lift or other reroutes.

For simplicity, in this post RQ refers to the Rose Quarter platform used by Blue, Red, and Green Line trains. IRQ refers to the Interstate Rose Quarter platform used by Yellow Line trains.

First, the whole thing from above:

As always, click for larger

Rose Quarter Platform

Starting with the signals associated with the Rose Quarter platform.

Looking west into RQ from OCC

Coming into Rose Quarter from the east (Oregon Convention Center platform), the first signals you encounter are 18A and 18B. 18A protects switches 13A, 11C, and 11D, and will remain red with an active ATS magnet if any of those switches are not aligned to move west or if there is a conflicting move in progress (e.g. a vintage trolley coming in or out of the trolley barn). 18B gives you a choice of routes between the special events track which is the middle platform, the westbound mainline track which is located to the right of the special events track, or the trolley barn.

Now in the RQ platform, looking westbound first:

16B and 16C can display identical aspects for identical routes (remember, it’s not where you are, it’s where you’re going) – the only difference is that 16B is for trains heading west from the special events track and 16C is for trains in the westbound main. A white vertical will send you toward the Steel Bridge; a red over white vertical will send you toward IRQ (Yellow Line). These signals will stay red if the bridge span is unlocked for a lift, or if there is a conflicting move in progress with the Yellow Line.

And then east from Rose Quarter:

18D, which is used by vintage trolleys leaving the barn – a white vertical to continue to the eastbound mainline; a red over white vertical for a reverse move onto the westbound mainline.

18E and 18F (similar to 16B and 16C) can display identical aspects for identical routes, with 18E used by trains in the westbound main and 18F used by trains in the special events track. A white vertical will send trains east on the eastbound mainline; a red over white vertical will send trains east on the westbound mainline.

18G is the signal for eastbound trains in the eastbound mainline at RQ – no choice of routes available here. Memory trick for memorizing signal numbers (though I don’t think they do that anymore in rail training) – “G” for Gresham, and signal 18G will get you there.

Then away from the Rose Quarter platform itself…

Interstate Rose Quarter Platform

16E at the IRQ platform. A white vertical on 16E will send Yellow Line trains over the Steel Bridge; a red over white vertical will send them into Rose Quarter. This is how Yellow Line trains can get from Expo to the Ruby yard at the end of the day. Also, when a Yellow Line train operator forgets to change the route code in their trailing cab from Clackamas’s 12 to Jackson’s 50, they get a red over white vertical here.

Then at the other end of IRQ are N2A (for trains heading north from the southbound track) and N2B (for trains heading north from the northbound track) – like Rose Quarter, IRQ is also set up to allow turnbacks in the event of a bridge lift. A lunar on these signals will send trains on the northbound mainline; a red over lunar into the Broadway Siding – you may have been on a train in the morning where it stops at IRQ, kicks everyone off, but then appears to continue north. It only goes as far as the Broadway Siding before turning around and going back west over the Steel Bridge. (Linked video was not filmed, narrated, or posted by me and does not feature me. Linked video is also old, Train 6 hasn’t done that for a while, but 33 does it currently)

Coming off the Steel Bridge

16G will display a lunar for trains heading into RQ (Blue, Red, and Green Line trains), and a red over lunar for trains heading into IRQ (Yellow Line trains).

Assorted pics of and through the interlocking

Both heading westbound toward the Steel Bridge from Rose Quarter

Can diverge to or from IRQ

You can see how you can get from either track at IRQ to RQ or the Steel Bridge

Switches and crossovers

I also have this video which I’d originally posted a few months ago, showing a view from the cab from 1st and Morrison to Rose Quarter. This was a Red Line train, so we got a lunar on 16G and went through the interlocking at the same time as another Red Line Train.

Making a parallel move with a westbound train

Given the design of Rose Quarter, what’s ideal for train movement are parallel moves, where trains can move in opposite directions at the same time. Scheduling trains to do this reduces the need to wait for other trains (e.g. sitting at RQ waiting because a Yellow Line is going through, so the switches are set against you) as well as reducing the impact that trains moving through the intersection has on auto/bike/pedestrian traffic.

Yellow Line trains making a parallel move