MAX Light Rail

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For the planned light rail system in Perth, Western Australia, see Metro Area Express (Perth).
MAX Light Rail
Locale Portland metropolitan area, Oregon
Transit type Light rail
Number of lines 4
Number of stations 87
Daily ridership 121,000 (avg. weekday boardings, FY2013)[1]
Annual ridership 39.12 million (boardings, FY2013)[1]
Website MAX Light Rail
Began operation September 5, 1986
Operator(s) TriMet
System length 52.4 mi (84.3 km)
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
(standard gauge)

MAX Light Rail, or Metropolitan Area Express, is a light rail system consisting of four separate lines (Blue, Green, Red, and Yellow lines) serving 87 stations in the Portland metropolitan area in Oregon. The system has had an average weekday ridership between 115,000 and 130,000 since Fiscal Year 2010.[1] It is owned and operated by TriMet and began service in 1986.

From its inception until 2004, about $3 billion was invested in light rail in Portland.[2]

Early system history[edit]

In the mid-1970s, TriMet (or Tri-Met, as it was known until 2002) began a study for light rail using funds intended for the cancelled Mount Hood Freeway. The light rail project was known as the Banfield Light Rail Project, named for the freeway (I-84) that part of the alignment followed. The TriMet board approved the project in September 1978.[3]

Construction of the 15-mile (24 km) route started in 1982,[4] and the system opened on September 5, 1986.[5] Of the project's total cost of $214 million, 83 percent was funded by the federal Urban Mass Transportation Administration (now known as the Federal Transit Administration).[6] Less than two months before the opening, TriMet adopted the name Metropolitan Area Express, or MAX, for the new system following an employee contest.[7][8]

As planning of a second light rail line, to the west side, gained momentum in the late 1980s, the MAX line came to be referred to as the Eastside MAX line, so as to distinguish it from the Westside MAX project. The 18-mile (29 km) Westside line, to Beaverton and Hillsboro, began construction in 1993 and opened in 1998. Except for a few rush-hour trips, all trips on the now-two light rail lines were connected in downtown. The resulting 33-mile (53 km) east-west line has always been operated as a single, through route, and it became known as the Blue Line in 2001, after TriMet adopted color designations for its separate light rail routes.[9]

Current system[edit]


The MAX system currently consists of four lines, each designated by a color.

The MAX system was built in a series of five separate projects, and each line runs over one or more of the previously opened segments. The use of colors to distinguish the separately operated routes was first adopted in 2000[9] and brought into use in 2001. The 2004-opened Yellow Line originally followed the same routing in downtown Portland as the Red and Blue lines, along First Avenue, Morrison Street and Yamhill Street, but it was shifted to a new alignment along the Portland Transit Mall on August 30, 2009, introducing light rail service along the Mall.[14][15] The Green Line began serving the Mall on September 12, 2009.[14]

The system currently has a total of 87 stations. 51 stations are served by the Blue Line, 28 stations by the Green Line, 29 by the Red Line, and 22 by the Yellow Line, with 40 stations served by two or more lines and 8 by three. The system's central stations are at Pioneer Courthouse Square, on the Portland Transit Mall. All four lines pass through the Rose Quarter and cross the Steel Bridge.

The trains operate on direct current and utilize two voltages, 750V DC nominal on sections west of NE 9th Avenue & Holladay Street and 825V DC nominal on the remainder. The two systems are electrically isolated.[16]

After the Yellow Line was rerouted to the Portland Transit Mall, the Steel Bridge consists of the only portion of the MAX Light Rail system that is shared by all four lines.

Trains run every 15 minutes from early in the morning Monday through Friday until late at night, while weekends consists of every 18 minutes. The Blue Line runs every 10 minutes during rush hour. Headways between trains are shorter in the central section of the system, where lines overlap. Actual schedules vary by location and time of day. At many stations, a live readerboard shows the destination and time-to-arrival of the next several trains, using data gathered by a vehicle tracking system.

In addition to regular MAX service, the Portland Vintage Trolley has operated on the MAX system since late 1991, on most weekends, serving the same stops. This service uses 1991-built replicas of 1904 Portland streetcars. Until 2009, the Vintage Trolley service followed a section of the original MAX line, between the Galleria/Library stations and Lloyd Center, but in September 2009 the service moved to the newly opened MAX alignment along the transit mall, running from Union Station to Portland State University,[14][17] and has remained on that route in subsequent seasons. In 2011, the service was reduced to only seven or eight Sundays per year, and Vintage Trolley service is scheduled to be discontinued entirely in July 2014, with the sale of the two remaining faux-vintage cars to a group planning a streetcar line in St. Louis.[18]



TriMet MAX ticket vending machine, older style. Inset is close-up of fare selection (in 2006) and a ticket validator.

MAX uses a proof-of-payment system; riders must carry a receipt at all times. Fares are purchased before boarding, and receipt is retained as proof of paid fare. Passengers must board the train before the receipt's expiration, and are allowed to ride past the time on the receipt, provided the train was boarded before the expiration time. Receipts are good for 2 hours (2.5 hours effective 3/1/2015) or until end of service day depending on fare, after purchase, and can be used an unlimited number of times, for travel in any direction, as well as for buses, Portland Streetcar, and C-Tran. From 1986 until 2012, TriMet's fare system was zonal, or distance-based, with higher fares for longer rides, and three fare zones (five until 1988). However, in September 2012 the agency discontinued all use of fare zones.[19]

MAX fares (as of September 1, 2014) are:

  • Adult: $2.50 (valid for any ride within time-stamp)
2-hour (2.5-hour effective 3/1/2015) youth ticket printed from ticket machine. Front (right) and back (left)
  • Youth: $1.25 (ages 7–17 and students in high school or pursuing a GED). Must show proof of age or student status if asked. (Riders who are enrolled in a Portland Public high school are eligible for a free transit pass, valid until June 30 of the year following the date of issue (usually the beginning of September)).[20]
  • Honored Citizen: $1 (persons 65 years of age or older, or disabled)
  • LIFT Paratransit: $2.15
  • Children under 7: Free when accompanied by fare-paying passenger
  • Day Passes (valid until the end of service, circa 2:30 a.m., but not 24 hours):
  • Adult $5
  • Youth: $2.50
  • Honored Citizen: $2

Seven-day, 14-day and 30-day passes are available for each category of passenger.[19] One-month passes are available from TriMet ticket outlets, but since September 2012, the ticket-vending machines at MAX stations have issued 30-day passes instead of one-month passes, with the period of validity starting on the day of purchase, rather than the beginning of a calendar month.[21] One-year passes can also be purchased from TriMet at the office in Pioneer Square, for the price of 11 months' fare.

Transfer receipts from buses are also valid fare on MAX, provided they have not expired before boarding, and MAX tickets are valid on bus routes, under the same condition. On the Portland Streetcar system, a new streetcar-only ticket priced at $1 was introduced in September 2012,[22] and this ticket and a similar streetcar-only annual pass are not valid on MAX or on TriMet buses, but all other Portland Streetcar tickets are valid on MAX. The ticket-vending machines on board the streetcars are equipped to issue TriMet-compatible tickets, as well as streetcar-only tickets.[23]

Until 2012, riding was free in Fareless Square, which included all of downtown and part of the Lloyd District, but the 37-year-old fare-free zone was discontinued on September 1, 2012, as part of systemwide cost-cutting measures.[19]


Segment description Date opened Line(s) Endpoints # of new
Eastside (Banfield) September 5, 1986 All Lines Cleveland Avenue to Library/Galleria/SW 9th/10th 31 15.1
Westside September 12, 1998 Blue, Red Hatfield Government Center to Library/Galleria/SW 9th/10th 20 17.6
Airport September 10, 2001 Red Portland International Airport to Gateway TC 4 5.6
Interstate Avenue May 1, 2004 Yellow Expo Center to Rose Quarter TC 10 5.8
Portland Transit Mall August 30, 2009 Green, Yellow Portland State University to Steel Bridge west approach 14 (7 per direction) 1.8
I-205 September 12, 2009 Green Clackamas Town Center to Gateway TC 8 6.5
87 52.4


Under construction[edit]

Main article: MAX Orange Line
Downtown Portland – Milwaukie (PSU South/SW Jackson Street – SE Park Avenue)
Projected opening: September 12, 2015; length: 7.3 miles (11.7 km); stations: 10[24]
Route: From downtown Portland to Milwaukie as the MAX Orange Line (starting at Union Station and running via the Transit Mall) following a combination of SE 17th Avenue, McLoughlin Blvd., and Union Pacific Railroad (formerly Southern Pacific) rail line corridor.

Proposed lines and extensions[edit]

A Red Line train on the Banfield Mainline next to Interstate 84


Yellow Line Extension to Vancouver, WA (Expo Center – Marshall Center/Clark College)
Former projected opening: 2019 length: 2.9 miles (4.7 km); Stations: 5
Route: From Expo Center to Clark College in Vancouver. This Yellow Line extension would have served Hayden Island and Vancouver, and initial planning for it took place in conjunction with the Columbia River Crossing project. Tracks in Vancouver would have been laid out as a northbound and southbound couplet on Broadway and Washington, respectively. This couplet would have merged onto 17th before terminating at Clark College. In February 2010, it was projected that construction could begin in 2014 for the Washington segment, 2015 for the Oregon segment.[25] In March 2014, the extension was canceled along with the Columbia River Crossing after the Oregon Legislature voted against funding.[26]

Other extensions[edit]

TriMet has indicated that additional extensions have been studied or discussed with Metro and cities in the region.[27][28] These proposed extensions include the following, with light rail being considered along with other alternatives:


General description[edit]

In parts of the MAX system, particularly in central Portland and Hillsboro, MAX trains run on surface streets. Except on the Portland Transit Mall, trains run in reserved lanes closed to other motorized vehicles. On the Transit Mall, trains operate on the same lanes as TriMet buses (although MAX trains have traffic priority). Elsewhere, MAX runs within its own exclusive right-of-way, in street medians, alongside freeways, and on former freight railroad lines.

Where the tracks run in a street median, such as the majority of the Yellow Line and the section of the Blue Line along Burnside Avenue between Gateway Transit Center and Ruby Junction, intersections are generally controlled by traffic signals which give trains preemption. Where the tracks occupy a completely separate right-of-way, the tracks are protected by automated grade crossing gates. A three-mile (4.8 km) section consists of two tunnels below Washington Park. While this section has only one station, it is 260 feet (79 m) below ground level, making it the deepest transit station in North America[31] and one of the deepest in the world.

Because of Portland's relatively small 200-foot (61 m) downtown blocks, trains operate with only one or two cars (technically, the single-car "trains" are in fact not trains). The MAX cars are about 90 feet (27.4 m) long, so a stopped train consisting of more than two cars would block intersections. All service is typically operated with two-car trains, except for certain trips during late-night hours. During the first few years of Red Line and Yellow Line service, those lines normally used single cars on a portion of their service, but as ridership has grown and additional light rail cars have been acquired, those lines now normally use all two-car trains. The 2009-introduced MAX Mall Shuttle, which provided supplementary service along the Portland Transit Mall on weekday afternoons only, normally always used a single car;[14] it was discontinued in June 2011.[32]

Rolling stock[edit]

The interior of a Type 2 MAX car, towards middle section

There are currently five models of MAX cars, designated by TriMet as "Type 1", "Type 2", "Type 3", "Type 4" and "Type 5". The Type 5 cars have not yet entered service.

Type 1[edit]

The Type 1 cars were manufactured by a joint venture between La Brugeoise et Nivelles and Bombardier Corporation before the latter acquired the former, and featured a raised floor with steps at the doors. These cars are based on a La Brugeoise et Nivelles design used in Rio de Janeiro Line Line 2.[33] The first car was completed at the factory in late 1983[34] and arrived in Portland in 1984.[35]

An extended doorway bridgeplate, or wheelchair ramp, in a low-floor MAX car

Types 2 and 3[edit]

With the partial opening of Westside MAX in 1997, new cars made by Siemens were introduced. Called Type 2 by TriMet, the Siemens SD600 cars have a low-floor design, a first for light rail cars in North America,[36][37] digital readerboards and a slightly more open floor plan. The floor is nearly level with the platforms, and small ramps called "bridge plates" extend (on request) from two of the four doors, enabling passengers in wheelchairs to roll on and off of the car easily. These permitted the elimination of wheelchair lifts that had been located at every station and were time-consuming to use.[38] High-floor Type 1 cars are now always paired with a low-floor Type 2 or 3 car so that each train is wheelchair-accessible.

Older (Bombardier; left) and newer (Siemens SD660; right) light rail cars at the Beaverton Transit Center, on the Blue Line and Red Line, respectively

The first low-floor light rail car was delivered in 1996[39] and the type was first used in service on August 31, 1997.[38] The new cars also came equipped with air-conditioning, a feature originally lacking from the Type 1 cars,[36] but TriMet later retrofitted air-conditioning to all of the older MAX cars, in 1997–98. The initial order of 39 Type 2 cars was expanded, in stages, eventually to a total of 52 cars.[40]

Some of the later models of light rail cars had automatic passenger counters retrofitted; in these models, they are on the floor of the doorways.

The Type 3 cars (Siemens SD660) wear TriMet's new paint scheme and have more ergonomic seats, but otherwise are outwardly identical to the Type 2 cars in design, the primary difference being various technical upgrades, including improved air-conditioning and factory-installed automatic passenger counters using photoelectric sensors above the doorways. Purchased for the opening of the Yellow Line in May 2004, they began to enter service when delivered in fall 2003.

In 2001–02, TriMet modified the interior of the Type 2 cars to add space for bicycles. Eight seats per car were removed and replaced—in four places per car—with hooks from which a bicycle can be hung.[41] The Type 3 cars carried this newer layout as built.

"Type 4" MAX cars (Siemens S70) in service on the Blue Line

Type 4[edit]

Twenty-two new Siemens S70 vehicles, designated Type 4 cars, were purchased in conjunction with the I-205 and Portland Mall MAX projects. They feature a more streamlined design than previous models, have more seating and are lighter in weight and therefore more energy-efficient. They can only operate in pairs, since each car has just one operator's cab, at the "A" end (the "B" end has additional passenger seating). At about 95 feet (28.96 m) long, they are about three feet longer than Type 2 and Type 3 cars, which were 92 feet (28.04 m).[42] The Type 4 MAX cars began to enter service in August 2009.[43] All four different types of cars are used on all four MAX lines.

The destination signs in the Type 1, 2 and 3 cars are rollsign-type, whereas those in the Type 4 and Type 5 cars are LED-type.[14] In the rollsigns, the designated route color (blue, green, red or yellow) is shown as a colored background under white (or black) text in the display, while in the LED signs the route color is indicated by a colored square at the left end of the display, and all text is orange lettering against a black background.

Type 5[edit]

With the construction of the MAX Orange Line creating a need for fleet expansion by 2015, TriMet placed an order with Siemens in April 2012 for another 18 S70 cars, the same model as the Type 4. These will include some minor modifications, such as improved interior seating.[44] The agency has designated them Type 5, and their fleet numbers will be 521–538.[45] (The numbers 511–514 are already in use for TriMet's Vintage Trolley cars.) The Type 5 vehicles began to be delivered in September 2014, and all 18 will be in service for the Orange Line opening in September 2015.[46]

Portland MAX Light Rail Cars
Image Designation Car numbers Manufacturer Model No. First used No. of Seats/
Overall Capacity
MAX train on Yamhill St with Pioneer Place (1991) - Portland, Oregon Type 1 101–126 Bombardier none 1986 76/166 26
MAX Yellow Line leaving Pioneer Square South 2009-05-31 Type 2 201–252 Siemens SD660 1997 64/166 52
MAX train crossing Steel Bridge in 2009 - street view of SD660 LRVs Type 3 301–327 Siemens SD660 2003 64/166 27
MAX Light Rail Car (Multnomah County, Oregon scenic images) (mulDA0008a) Type 4 401–422 Siemens S70 2009 68/172[42] 22
Type 5 521–538 Siemens S70 2015 72/186[47] 18

Notes on capacities:

  • The capacities given are for a single car; a two-car train has double the capacity.
  • The Type 2 cars originally had 72 seats, but eight seats were later removed, to make space for bicycles.[41]
  • All of these capacity figures are based on "normal" loading conditions (defined as 4 standing passengers per square meter by industry standards[48]); under so-called "crush" loading conditions (6-8 standees per m2), all of these cars are capable of carrying many more passengers than stated here.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "TriMet Service and Ridership Information" (PDF). TriMet. October 18, 2013. p. 1. Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  2. ^ Ozawa, Connie P., ed. (2004). The Portland Edge: Challenges and Successes in Growing Communities. Island Press. p. 19. ISBN 1-55963-695-5. 
  3. ^ Hortsch, Dan (September 27, 1978). "Tri-Met board votes to back Banfield light-rail project". The Oregonian, p. F1.
  4. ^ Federman, Stan (March 27, 1982). "At ground-breaking: Festivities herald transitway". The Oregonian, p. A12.
  5. ^ Koberstein, Paul (September 7, 1986). "Riders swamp light rail as buses go half-full and schedules go by the way". The Oregonian, p. A1.
  6. ^ Federman, Stan (September 5, 1986). "All aboard! MAX on track; ride free". The Oregonian, p. A1.
  7. ^ Tri-Met (July 25, 1986). Light rail name announced. Press release.
  8. ^ Anderson, Jennifer (May 5, 2006). "Stumptown Stumper". Portland Tribune. Retrieved August 21, 2012. 
  9. ^ a b Stewart, Bill (September 21, 2000). "Local colors roll out: Tri-Met designates the Blue, Red and Yellow lines". The Oregonian.
  10. ^ "TriMet - MAX Blue Line". TriMet. Retrieved 2008-11-02. 
  11. ^ "TriMet - MAX Green Line". TriMet. Retrieved 2009-09-12. 
  12. ^ "TriMet - MAX Red Line". TriMet. Retrieved 2008-11-02. 
  13. ^ "TriMet - MAX Yellow Line". TriMet. Retrieved 2008-11-02. 
  14. ^ a b c d e Morgan, Steve (1st quarter, 2010). "Expansion for Portland's MAX: New routes and equipment". Passenger Train Journal (White River Productions, Inc.) 2010 (1): 38–40.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  15. ^ "New MAX line opens downtown". Portland Tribune. August 28, 2009. Retrieved August 21, 2012. 
  16. ^ "One Breakpoint is Enough: Traction Power Simulation in Portland" (PDF). Transportation Research Board. Retrieved 2010-05-01. 
  17. ^ "Vintage Trolley 2012 Schedule on the Portland Mall". Portland Vintage Trolley website. Archived from the original on February 1, 2013. Retrieved February 6, 2014. 
  18. ^ "Portland's Vintage Trolley". TriMet. 2014. Retrieved April 16, 2014. 
  19. ^ a b c Bailey Jr., Everton (August 30, 2012). "TriMet boosts most fares starting Saturday; some routes changing". The Oregonian. Retrieved September 3, 2012. 
  20. ^ "Week of Sept. 14, 2009 - Portland Public Schools". Portland Public Schools. Retrieved 27 November 2014. 
  21. ^ "One-month pass". TriMet. Retrieved September 3, 2012. 
  22. ^ Mayer, James (August 2, 2012). "New streetcar fares explained". The Oregonian. Retrieved September 4, 2012. 
  23. ^ "Streetcar Fares". Portland Streetcar Inc. Retrieved September 3, 2012. 
  24. ^ "Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project" (PDF). TriMet. August 2012. Retrieved November 8, 2014. 
  25. ^ "Columbia River Crossing information packet". ODOT, WSDOT. February 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-05. 
  26. ^ Manning, Jeff (March 7, 2014). "Columbia River Crossing: ODOT to pull plug, bridge project is dead". The Oregonian. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  27. ^ a b c "Transit Investment Plan FY 2012". TriMet. Retrieved December 18, 2012. 
  28. ^ Rivera, Dylan (September 5, 2009). "MAX Green Line signals decades of rail growth". The Oregonian. Retrieved December 18, 2012. 
  29. ^
  30. ^ "Southwest Corridor Plan". Metro. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  31. ^ "Westside Light Rail MAX Blue Line extension (fact sheet)". TriMet. November 2009. Retrieved January 23, 2011. 
  32. ^ Rose, Joseph (June 3, 2011). "TriMet will make several seasonal bus line adjustments Sunday". The Oregonian. Retrieved July 14, 2011. 
  33. ^
  34. ^ "‘Roomy, good-looking’ light-rail cars please Tri-Met official" (November 27, 1983). The Sunday Oregonian, p. B5.
  35. ^ "First car for light rail delivered" (April 11, 1984). The Oregonian, p. C4.
  36. ^ a b Oliver, Gordon (April 15, 1993). "Tri-Met prepares to purchase 37 low-floor light-rail cars". The Oregonian, p. D4.
  37. ^ Vantuono, William C. (July 1993). "Tri-Met goes low-floor: Portland's Tri-Met has broken new ground with a procurement of low-floor light rail vehicles. The cars will be North America's first low-floor LRVs." Railway Age, pp. 49–51.
  38. ^ a b O'Keefe, Mark (September 1, 1997). "New MAX cars smooth the way for wheelchairs". The Oregonian, p. B12.
  39. ^ Oliver, Gordon (August 1, 1996). "MAX takes keys to cool new model". The Oregonian, p. D1.
  40. ^ Oliver, Gordon (September 26, 1997). "Tri-Met expands light-rail car order". The Oregonian, p. B6.
  41. ^ a b Stewart, Bill (August 20, 2001). "MAX will add racks for bikes, not bags". The Oregonian.
  42. ^ a b "MAX: The Next Generation". TriMet. Archived from the original on March 4, 2009. Retrieved June 9, 2011. 
  43. ^ Redden, Jim (August 6, 2009). "TriMet puts new light-rail cars on track". Portland Tribune. Retrieved August 21, 2012. 
  44. ^ Rose, Joseph (July 31, 2012). "TriMet asks cramped MAX riders to help design next-generation train's seating". The Oregonian. Retrieved September 4, 2012. 
  45. ^ Tramways & Urban Transit magazine, June 2012, p. 235. UK: LRTA Publishing. ISSN 1460-8324.
  46. ^ Rose, Joseph (September 30, 2014). "TriMet's first new 'Type 5' MAX light-rail vehicle has rolled into Portland (or has it?)". The Oregonian. Retrieved 29 January 2015. 
  47. ^ "PMLR Type 5 LRV Fact Sheet". TriMet. October 2014. Retrieved 29 January 2015. 
  48. ^ "Glossary section, Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual, 2nd Edition (TCRP Report 100)" (PDF). Transportation Research Board. October 2003. pp. 9 ("car weight designations"). Retrieved 2009-06-16. 

External links[edit]