MAX Light Rail

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MAX Light Rail
Locale Portland metropolitan area, Oregon
Transit type Light rail
Number of lines 5
Number of stations 97
Daily ridership 116,800 (avg. weekday boardings, FY2015)[1]
Annual ridership 37.75 million (boardings, FY2015)[1]
Website MAX Light Rail
Began operation September 5, 1986
Operator(s) TriMet
Number of vehicles 145[2]
System length 60 mi (96.6 km)[2]
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
(standard gauge)
Electrification 750 V DC
825 V DC

MAX Light Rail, or Metropolitan Area Express, is a light rail system consisting of five separate lines (Blue, Green, Orange, Red, and Yellow lines) serving 97 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 MAX's inception to 2004, about $3 billion was invested in light rail in Portland.[3]

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.[4]

Construction of the 15-mile (24 km) route started in 1982,[5] and the system opened on September 5, 1986.[6] Of the project's total cost of $214 million, 83% was funded by the federal Urban Mass Transportation Administration (now known as the Federal Transit Administration).[7] Less than two months before the opening, TriMet adopted the name Metropolitan Area Express, or MAX, for the new system following an employee contest.[8][9]

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.[10]

Current system[edit]

Map of the MAX system (also showing WES commuter rail and streetcar lines)


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

A MAX train composed of one low-floor car and one high-floor car on the Portland Transit Mall in 2015
Average Daily Ridership, Jan 2002 thru Nov 2016

The MAX system was built in a series of six 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[10] 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.[16][17] The Green Line began serving the Mall on September 12, 2009.[16]

The system currently has a total of 97 stations.[2] Of these, 51 stations are served by the Blue Line, 28 stations by the Green Line, 17 by the Orange Line, 29 by the Red Line, and 17 by the Yellow Line, with 39 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 lines except for the Orange Line pass through the Rose Quarter and cross the Steel Bridge.

The trains operate on direct current and utilize two voltages, 750 V DC nominal on sections west of NE 9th Avenue & Holladay Street and 825V DC nominal on the remainder. The two systems are electrically isolated.[18]

Trains run every 15 minutes from early in the morning until late at night, even on weekends. 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.

Arrival information screens are in place at all stations on the Green Line and Transit Mall, with reader boards on the Yellow Line and some Red Line stations. These show arrival countdowns for trains and information about any service disruptions. After a $180,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration, TriMet began adding digital displays to Blue and Red Line stations in 2013, initially on the west side, and then on the east side.[19] All MAX stations are expected to be fitted with screens by 2016.


MAX Light Rail stations vary in size, but are generally simple and austere. There are no faregates or specially segregated areas. Stations outside of downtown have platforms and entrance halls, while most stations in downtown are little more than streetcar-style stops. Official concessionaires sometimes open coffee shops at stations.


MAX uses a proof-of-payment system; riders must carry a valid ticket or pass at all times. Tickets or passes are purchased before boarding and retained as proof of payment. Passengers must board the train before the time on ticket or pass expires, and are allowed to ride past the time on the ticket, provided the train was boarded before the expiration time. After validation, tickets are valid for 2½ hours and passes are valid until end of service day, and can be used an unlimited number of times, for travel in any direction, on MAX, WES, TriMet buses, Portland Streetcar, and C-Tran buses (except express routes).

A new TriMet ticket vending machine installed in 2013,[20] with a ticket validator next to it
2.5-hour youth ticket printed from a ticket machine. Front (right) and back (left)

TriMet fares (as of September 1, 2015) are:

2½-Hour Ticket 1-Day Pass 7-Day Pass 14-Day Pass 30-Day/
1-Month Pass †
1-Year Pass ‡
Adult $2.50 $5 $26 $51 $100 $1,100
Honored Citizen
(ages 65+/disabled/medicare)
$1.25 $2.50 $7.50 $14.50 $28 $308
(ages 7–17 or high school/GED students)
$1.25 $2.50 $7.50 $14.50 $28 $308
(ages 0–6)
Free when accompanied by fare-paying passenger; limit 3.
  • † 30-day passes are sold at ticket vending machines at MAX stations, while passes valid for a single calendar month are sold at TriMet ticket outlets.[21]
  • ‡ 1-year pass can only be purchased at TriMet's Pioneer Square office.

Most tickets and passes may be purchased from vending machines located on every MAX platform or on TriMet's mobile ticketing app. Passengers can also purchase books of 10 unvalidated 2½-hour tickets, books of 5 unvalidated 1-day passes and 1-month passes on the TriMet website or from a ticket outlet.

The Portland Streetcar ticket vending machines can also issue 2½-hour tickets and 1-day passes that are valid on all TriMet services including MAX,[22] but $1 streetcar-only tickets and the streetcar-only annual pass are not valid on TriMet.[23]

Hop Fastpass card readers are located on each MAX station platform in preparation for the mid-2017 launch of the regional e-fare system.[24] They will enable riders to pay their fare by tapping one of the card readers just before boarding a MAX train. Additionally, as part of the MAX Orange Line, the first turnstiles in the MAX system are being installed at the Southeast Bybee Boulevard and Southeast Park Avenue stations, to be activated with the e-fare system in 2017.[25] This pilot project will determine the feasibility of fare gates at other stations.


From the MAX system's opening until 2012, riding was free in Fareless Square (known as the Free Rail Zone from 2010 to 2012), which included all of downtown and, starting in 2001, part of the Lloyd District. The 37-year-old fare-free zone was discontinued on September 1, 2012, as part of systemwide cost-cutting measures.[26] As part of the same budget cuts, TriMet discontinued its zonal fares, moving to a flat fare system. Zones had been in place since 1986, with higher fares for longer rides, and three fare zones (five until 1988).[26]

Original line and expansions[edit]

Segment description Date opened Line(s) End points New
Length Construction Cost
(mi) (km)
Eastside (Banfield)[27] September 5, 1986 All Lines 31 (27
15.1 24.3 March 1982 – September 1986 $214 million
Westside[28] September 12, 1998 Blue, Red 20 17.6 28.3 July 1993 – September 1998 $963 million
Airport[29] September 10, 2001 Red 4 5.6 9.0 May 1999 – September 2001 $125 million
Interstate Avenue[30] May 1, 2004 Yellow 10 5.8 9.3 November 2000 – May 2004 $350 million
Portland Transit Mall August 30, 2009 Green, Orange, Yellow 14 (7 per direction) 1.8 2.9 February 2007 – September 2009 $575.7 million
I-205[31] September 12, 2009 Green 8 6.5 10.5
Portland–Milwaukie[32] September 12, 2015 Orange
  • Lincoln/SW 3rd Ave
  • SE Park Ave
10 7.3 11.7 June 2011 – September 2015 $1.49 billion
Total 97 59.7 96  


Proposed extensions[edit]

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

Downtown Portland – Tualatin (Lincoln Street/SW 3rd – Bridgeport Village):

  • Projected opening: 2025[33]
  • Route: From PSU to Tualatin via Tigard along dedicated lanes on Barbur Boulevard.[34] In May 2016, light rail was chosen as the mode over bus rapid transit,[35] with the project expected to cost $2.5 billion.[36] Proposals to serve Marquam Hill/OHSU, Hillsdale, and PCC Sylvania with tunnels were dropped from the plan because they would be costly, have severe construction impacts, and attract few new transit riders.[37] Connecting OHSU to a surface transit line though elevators or escalators is being studied.[38]

Former extensions[edit]

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.[39] In March 2014, the extension was canceled along with the Columbia River Crossing after the State of Washington pulled out of the project and the Oregon Legislature voted against the state continuing to fund it solely.[40]

Other extensions[edit]

TriMet has indicated that additional extensions have been studied or discussed with Metro and cities in the region.[41][42] These proposed extensions include the following, with light rail being considered along with other alternatives:

  • Extension of either the Orange Line from Milwaukie and/or the Green Line from Clackamas Town Center to Oregon City[41]:67
  • Extension of the Blue Line from Hillsboro to Forest Grove[41]:67
  • Constructing a subway tunnel under downtown Portland[43]


TriMet's 2015-opened Tilikum Crossing is the only place where MAX shares tracks with the Portland Streetcar system.

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[44] 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;[16] it was discontinued in June 2011.[45]

Rolling stock[edit]

Type 1 (Bombardier, left) and Type 2 (Siemens SD660, right) light rail cars at the Beaverton Transit Center, on the Blue Line and Red Line, respectively

There are currently five models of MAX light rail vehicles, designated by TriMet as "Type 1", "Type 2", "Type 3", "Type 4" and "Type 5". All of the different types are used on all of the MAX lines.

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.[46] The first vehicle was completed at the factory in late 1983[47] and arrived in Portland in 1984.[48] The Type 1 cars were delivered without air-conditioning, but it was added to all cars during a retrofit between in 1997–98. The Type 1 are the only MAX cars whose rollsign-type destination signs are hand-cranked. Because of the time-consuming process to change the signs, only the sign on the exposed end of the car is changed to the correct destination; the side signs only list the designated route color, and the sign on the coupled end of each car in a two-car train is left blank. All Type 1 stock are currently undergoing a refurbishing. Once completed, all cars will be equipped with digital signing, new HVAC systems, and new brake resistors. Updating the rail-cars was chosen over replacing them due to cost.[49] The Type 1 cars are the only ones that lack a regenerative braking capability.[18]

Type 2[edit]

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

With the partial opening of Westside MAX in 1997, TriMet's "Type 2" light rail vehicle were introduced. The Siemens model SD660 (originally SD600, but retroactively redesignated SD660 in 1998[50]) have a low-floor design, a first for light rail vehicles in North America,[51][52] 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 vehicle easily. These permitted the elimination of wheelchair lifts that had been located at every station and were time-consuming to use.[53] 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.

The first low-floor light rail vehicle was delivered in 1996[54] and first used in service on August 31, 1997.[53] The new vehicles also came equipped with air-conditioning, a feature originally lacking from the Type 1 vehicles,.[51] The initial order of 39 Type 2 vehicles was expanded, in stages, to a total of 52 vehicles.[55]

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

In 2001–02, TriMet modified the interior of the Type 2 cars to add space for bicycles. Eight seats per vehicle were removed and replaced—in four places per car—with hooks from which a bicycle can be hung.[56] All later cars have been delivered from the manufacturer with these bike hooks already installed.

Type 3[edit]

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

The second series of Siemens SD660 cars, TriMet's "Type 3" MAX light rail vehicle, are outwardly identical to the Type 2 cars in design, the primary difference being various technical upgrades. Siemens installed an improved air-conditioning system, more ergonomic seats and automatic passenger counters using photoelectric sensors above the doorways. The Type 3 cars were the first to wear the transit agency's newer (2002-adopted) paint scheme. Purchased for the opening of the Yellow Line in May 2004, delivery of the Type 3 series began in February 2003, and the vehicles began to enter service in September 2003.[57]

Type 4[edit]

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

Twenty-two new Siemens S70 low-floor cars, designated Type 4, 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).[58] The Type 4 MAX cars began to enter service in August 2009.[59]

The Type 4 cars were the first to use LED-type destination signs. On the rollsign-type destination signs used on the Type 1, 2 and 3 cars the designated route color (blue, green, red, or yellow) is shown as a colored background under white or black text, 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.[16] In October 2014, TriMet began a program to gradually replace all rollsigns in its MAX fleet with LED signs, affecting a total of 105 cars (and four signs per car). The program is projected to take until around mid-2016 to complete.[60]

Type 5[edit]

The second series of Siemens S70 cars, TriMet's "Type 5" MAX vehicle, were purchased in conjunction with the Portland–Milwaukie (MAX Orange Line) project, but are used on all lines in the system. These vehicles include some improvements over the Type 4 cars, including a less-cramped interior seating layout[61] and improvements to the air-conditioning system and wheelchair ramps.[62] TriMet placed the order for the Type 5 cars with Siemens in April 2012 and they began to be delivered in September 2014. The first two cars entered service on April 27, 2015,[63] and all but the last two had entered service by the time the Orange Line opened in September 2015.[64] The fleet numbers for the Type 5 cars are 521–538[65] (at the time the first cars were built, fleet numbers 511–514 were in use for the Vintage Trolley cars).

Portland MAX Light Rail Vehicles
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 train of two Type 2 cars on the Steel Bridge 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[58] 22
Type 5 LRVs laying over on the Blue Line in Hillsboro, May 2015 Type 5 521–538 Siemens S70 2015 72/186[62] 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.[56]
  • All of these capacity figures are based on "normal" loading conditions (defined as 4 standing passengers per square meter by industry standards[66]); 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.

Former Vintage Trolley service[edit]

In addition to regular MAX service, the Portland Vintage Trolley operated on the MAX system from 1991 until 2014, on most weekends, serving the same stops. This service, which operated for the last time in July 2014,[67][68] used 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,[16][69] and remained on that route in subsequent seasons. In 2011, the service was reduced to only seven or eight Sundays per year,[70] and in July 2014 it was discontinued entirely, with the sale of the two remaining faux-vintage cars to a group planning a streetcar line in St. Louis.[67][68]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ a b c "TriMet At-A-Glance". TriMet. January 2016. Retrieved March 28, 2016. 
  3. ^ Ozawa, Connie P., ed. (2004). The Portland Edge: Challenges and Successes in Growing Communities. Island Press. p. 19. ISBN 1-55963-695-5. 
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  5. ^ Federman, Stan (March 27, 1982). "At ground-breaking: Festivities herald transitway". The Oregonian, p. A12.
  6. ^ Koberstein, Paul (September 7, 1986). "Riders swamp light rail as buses go half-full and schedules go by the way". The Oregonian, p. A1.
  7. ^ Federman, Stan (September 5, 1986). "All aboard! MAX on track; ride free". The Oregonian, p. A1.
  8. ^ Tri-Met (July 25, 1986). Light rail name announced. Press release.
  9. ^ Anderson, Jennifer (May 5, 2006). "Stumptown Stumper". Portland Tribune. Retrieved August 21, 2012. 
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  14. ^ "TriMet - MAX Red Line". TriMet. Retrieved November 2, 2008. 
  15. ^ "TriMet - MAX Yellow Line". TriMet. Retrieved November 2, 2008. 
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  24. ^ Njus, Elliot (January 31, 2017). "Thousands of TriMet riders [mostly employees] start tapping their fare with Hop Fastpass (video)". The Oregonian. Retrieved February 4, 2017. 
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  33. ^ Beebe, Craig (May 10, 2016). "Leaders decide: Light rail for Portland to Bridgeport Village, no PCC tunnel". Metro News. Retrieved June 1, 2016. 
  34. ^ "Southwest Corridor Plan". Metro. Retrieved September 3, 2014. 
  35. ^ Njus, Elliot (May 9, 2016). "Committee picks light rail for SW Corridor transit project". The Oregonian. Retrieved May 10, 2016. 
  36. ^ Haas, Ryan (November 8, 2016). "Tigard Voters Saying Yes To Light Rail Plan". Oregon Public Broadcasting. Retrieved November 20, 2016. 
  37. ^ Tims, Dana (July 14, 2015). "No deep tunnel for OHSU: Southwest Corridor plan". The Oregonian. Retrieved July 20, 2015. 
  38. ^ Beebe, Craig (July 13, 2015). "Southwest Corridor leaders drop Marquam Hill/Hillsdale tunnels, leave door open on Sylvania option". Metro News. Retrieved July 20, 2015. 
  39. ^ "Columbia River Crossing information packet". ODOT, WSDOT. February 2010. Retrieved March 5, 2010. 
  40. ^ Manning, Jeff (March 7, 2014). "Columbia River Crossing: ODOT to pull plug, bridge project is dead". The Oregonian. Retrieved September 3, 2014. 
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  43. ^ Njus, Elliot (June 14, 2017). "City planners float idea of subway tunnel through downtown Portland". The Oregonian. Retrieved June 24, 2017. 
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  46. ^
  47. ^ "‘Roomy, good-looking’ light-rail cars please Tri-Met official" (November 27, 1983). The Sunday Oregonian, p. B5.
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  52. ^ 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.
  53. ^ a b O'Keefe, Mark (September 1, 1997). "New MAX cars smooth the way for wheelchairs". The Oregonian, p. B12.
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  55. ^ Oliver, Gordon (September 26, 1997). "Tri-Met expands light-rail car order". The Oregonian, p. B6.
  56. ^ a b Stewart, Bill (August 20, 2001). "MAX will add racks for bikes, not bags". The Oregonian.
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  67. ^ a b "Vintage Trolley Has Ceased Operation". Portland Vintage Trolley website. September 2014. Retrieved January 2, 2015. 
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External links[edit]