MAX Light Rail

MAX Light Rail
Metropolitan Area Express (MAX)
Locale Portland, Oregon, United States
Transit type Light rail
Number of lines 4
Number of stations 85
Daily ridership 126,800[1] (avg. weekday boardings)
Began operation September 5, 1986
Operator(s) TriMet
Number of vehicles 127
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) Standard gauge
Minimum radius of curvature 82 feet (25 m)
Electrification 750 V DC, overhead wires
Average speed 21.2 mph (34.1 km/h) (including stops)[2]
System map
MAX light rail.PNG

Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) is a light rail system in the Portland metropolitan area in the U.S. state of Oregon. It is operated by TriMet and currently has four lines: Blue, Green, Red and Yellow, with an Orange line currently under construction.

The number of weekday boardings on the MAX system averages between about 123,000 and 130,000 per day, depending on the time of year, but was 126,800 per day (weekdays) for the 12-month period from July 2010 through June 2011 (TriMet's Fiscal Year 2011)[1] and has been as high as 134,300 per day in a given month.[3] Total MAX ridership in FY2011 was 41.2 million.[1] Since its inception about $3 billion has been invested in light rail in Portland (as of 2004).[4]


Early system history

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.[5] Gresham officials and businesses initially rejected the plans until a slight routing change was agreed to.[citation needed]

Construction of the 15-mile (24 km) route started in 1982,[6] and the system opened on September 5, 1986.[7] 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).[8] Less than two months before the opening, TriMet adopted the name Metropolitan Area Express, or MAX, for the new system following an employee contest.[9][10]

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.[11]

General description

In parts of the MAX system, particularly in central Portland and Hillsboro, MAX trains run on surface streets. Except for 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 along a street, intersections are generally controlled by traffic signals which give trains preemption. Where the tracks occupy a completely separate right-of-way, level crossings are protected by automatic crossing gates giving trains the right-of-way. 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[12] 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. 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;[13] it was discontinued in June 2011.[14]

Lines and stations

TriMet runs four MAX 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[11] 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.[13][15] The Green Line began serving the Mall on September 12, 2009.[13]

The system currently has a total of 85 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 38 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. These stops, on three sides of the square, are near the center of the Free Rail Zone (formerly known as Fareless Square), a section in and around downtown Portland in which all MAX and Portland Streetcar rides are zero-fare (free). All trains also connect at the Rose Quarter.

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]

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.

In addition to regular MAX service, the Portland Vintage Trolley runs along the Portland Mall MAX tracks on some Sundays, serving the same stops. From 1991 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.[17][13]

Line Name Opened Stations Length Termini
  Blue Line 1986 51 32.7 mi (52.6 km) Hillsboro – City Center – Gresham
  Green Line 2009 28 14.1 mi (22.7 km) Clackamas – City Center – Portland State University
  Red Line 2001 29 25.5 mi (41 km) Airport – City Center – Beaverton TC
  Yellow Line 2004 22 7.8 mi (12.6 km) Expo Center – City Center – Portland State University
Project Name Opened Line(s) Section Stations Length
Banfield-Burnside (Eastside) September 5, 1986 Portions of:
All lines
Galleria/SW 10th Avenue – Cleveland Avenue 30 15.1 mi (24.3 km)
Westside September 12, 1998
(portion opened on August 29, 1997)
Portions of:
Blue and Red
Hatfield Government Center – Library/SW 9th Avenue 20 17.6 mi (28.3 km)
Airport September 10, 2001 A portion of:
Gateway TC – Airport 4 5.6 mi (9.0 km)
Interstate May 1, 2004 A portion of:
Steel Bridge east approach – Expo Center 10 5.8 mi (9.3 km)
Portland Transit Mall August 30, 2009 A portion of:
Green and Yellow
Steel Bridge west approach – PSU 12 (6 per direction) 1.8 mi (2.9 km)
I-205 September 12, 2009
A portion of:
Gateway TC – Clackamas Town Center 8 6.5 mi (10.5 km)
Totals 85 52.4 mi (84.3 km)

Rolling stock

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

There are currently four models of MAX cars, designated by TriMet as "Type 1", "Type 2" and so on.

The Type 1 cars were manufactured by Bombardier Corporation and featured a raised floor with steps at the doors. The first car was completed at the factory in late 1983[18] and arrived in Portland in 1984.[19]

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

With the partial opening of Westside MAX in 1997, new cars made by Siemens and called Type 2 by TriMet were introduced. These cars have a low-floor design, a first for light rail cars in North America,[20][21] 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.[22] Type 1 cars are now always paired with a 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[23] and the type was first used in service on August 31, 1997.[22] The new cars also came equipped with air-conditioning, a feature originally lacking from the Type 1 cars,[20] 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.[24]

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 are essentially identical to the Type 2 cars in design, but have TriMet's new paint scheme. They began to enter service in fall 2003, but were not in use in large numbers until the opening of the Interstate Avenue MAX line in 2004, which was the reason for their acquisition. They include automatic passenger counters which are located above the doorways, using photoelectric sensors.

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.[25] The Type 3 cars carried this newer layout as built.

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

Twenty-two new Siemens S70 vehicles, designated Type 4 cars, have been 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. 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).[26] The Type 4 MAX cars began to enter service in August 2009.[27] All four different types of cars are used on all four MAX lines.

The Type 1, 2 and 3 cars have destination signs of the roll-type, whereas the signs in the Type 4 cars are LED-type.[13] 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.

Portland MAX Light Rail Cars
Designation Car numbers Manufacturer Model No. First used No. of Seats/
Overall Capacity
Type 1 101-126 Bombardier none 1986 76/166 26
Type 2 201-252 Siemens SD660 1997 64/166 52
Type 3 301-327 Siemens SD660 2003 64/166 27
Type 4 401-422 Siemens S70 2009 68/172[26] 22

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.[25]
  • All of these capacity figures are based on "normal" loading conditions (defined as 4 standing passengers per square meter by industry standards[28]); 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.


TriMet MAX ticket vending machine, older style. Inset is close-up of fare selection, 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 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. MAX fares (as of October 22, 2011) are:

  • All-Zone (three-zone): $2.40 (Valid for any ride within time-stamp)
2-hour youth ticket printed from ticket machine. Front (right) and back (left)
  • Two-Zone: $2.10
  • Honored Citizen: $1.00 (disabled and elderly passengers)
  • Youth: $1.50 (ages 7–17 and students in high school or pursuing a GED; valid for all zones). Must show proof of age or student status if asked.
  • LIFT Paratransit All-Zone: $1.85
  • Children under 7: Free when accompanied by fare paying passenger
  • Day Pass: $5.00 (Valid all day, and for all zones)

Transfer receipts from buses and tickets purchased on the Portland Streetcar are also valid fare on MAX, provided they cover the zones through which the MAX trip is being made and have not expired before boarding. As noted above, MAX tickets are also valid on bus routes, under the same conditions.

Riding is free in the Free Rail Zone which includes all of downtown and part of the Lloyd Center area.[29]

Proposed lines and extensions

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

Under construction

Milwaukie/South Corridor (PSU South/SW Jackson Street - SE Park Avenue)
Projected opening: 2015; length: 7.3 miles (11.7 km); stations: 10 [30]
Route: From downtown Portland to Milwaukie either as the MAX Orange Line (starting at Union Station and running via the Transit Mall) or as an extension of the MAX Yellow Line, and following a combination of SE 17th Avenue, McLoughlin Blvd., and Union Pacific Railroad (formerly Southern Pacific) rail line corridor.

On the drawing board

Yellow Line Extension to Vancouver, WA (Expo Center - Marshall Center/Clark College)
Projected opening: 2018 length: 2.9 miles (4.7 km); Stations: 5
Route: From Expo Center to Clark College in Vancouver. This Yellow line extension will serve Hayden Island and Vancouver, and initial planning for it is taking place in conjunction with the Columbia River Crossing project. Tracks in Vancouver would be laid out as a northbound and southbound couplet on Broadway and Washington, respectively. This couplet would merge onto 17th before terminating at Clark College.[31]

Other extensions

TriMet has indicated that additional extensions have been studied or discussed with Metro and cities in the region.[32][33] These proposed extensions include:
  • Line via Barbur Blvd.
  • Line via Powell/Foster Blvd.
  • Line to Damascus & Boring
  • Extension from Milwaukie and/or Clackamas Town Center to Oregon City

See also


  1. ^ a b c "June 2011 Monthly Performance Report" (PDF). TriMet. p. 1. Retrieved September 2, 2011. 
  2. ^ "TriMet Service and Ridership Information" (PDF). TriMet. Retrieved 2009-10-07. 
  3. ^ "Record ridership for MAX and WES in May". TriMet. June 13, 2011. Retrieved July 14, 2011. 
  4. ^ Ozawa, Connie P., ed (2004). The Portland Edge: Challenges and Successes in Growing Communities. Island Press. p. 19. ISBN 1-55963-695-5. 
  5. ^ Hortsch, Dan (September 27, 1978). "Tri-Met board votes to back Banfield light-rail project". The Oregonian, p. F1.
  6. ^ Federman, Stan (March 27, 1982). "At ground-breaking: Festivities herald transitway". The Oregonian, p. A12.
  7. ^ Koberstein, Paul (September 7, 1986). "Riders swamp light rail as buses go half-full and schedules go by the way". The Oregonian, p. A1.
  8. ^ Federman, Stan (September 5, 1986). "All aboard! MAX on track; ride free". The Oregonian, p. A1.
  9. ^ Tri-Met (July 25, 1986). Light rail name announced. Press release.
  10. ^ Anderson, Jennifer (May 5, 2006). "Stumptown Stumper". Portland Tribune. Retrieved 2011-01-07. 
  11. ^ a b Stewart, Bill (September 21, 2000). "Local colors roll out: Tri-Met designates the Blue, Red and Yellow lines". The Oregonian.
  12. ^ "Westside Light Rail MAX Blue Line extension (fact sheet)". TriMet. November 2009. Retrieved January 23, 2011. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ Rose, Joseph (June 3, 2011). "TriMet will make several seasonal bus line adjustments Sunday". The Oregonian. Retrieved July 14, 2011. 
  15. ^ "New MAX line opens downtown". Portland Tribune. August 28, 2009. Retrieved April 21, 2011. 
  16. ^ "One Breakpoint is Enough: Traction Power Simulation in Portland" (PDF). Transportation Research Board. Retrieved 2010-05-01. 
  17. ^ "Vintage Trolley Schedule". Portland Vintage Trolley website. Retrieved 2009-09-17. 
  18. ^ "‘Roomy, good-looking’ light-rail cars please Tri-Met official" (November 27, 1983). The Sunday Oregonian, p. B5.
  19. ^ "First car for light rail delivered" (April 11, 1984). The Oregonian, p. C4.
  20. ^ a b Oliver, Gordon (April 15, 1993). "Tri-Met prepares to purchase 37 low-floor light-rail cars". The Oregonian, p. D4.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ a b O'Keefe, Mark (September 1, 1997). "New MAX cars smooth the way for wheelchairs". The Oregonian, p. B12.
  23. ^ Oliver, Gordon (August 1, 1996). "MAX takes keys to cool new model". The Oregonian, p. D1.
  24. ^ Oliver, Gordon (September 26, 1997). "Tri-Met expands light-rail car order". The Oregonian, p. B6.
  25. ^ a b Stewart, Bill (August 20, 2001). "MAX will add racks for bikes, not bags". The Oregonian.
  26. ^ a b "MAX: The Next Generation". TriMet. Archived from the original on March 4, 2009. Retrieved June 9, 2011. 
  27. ^ Redden, Jim (August 6, 2009). "TriMet puts new light-rail cars on track". Portland Tribune. Retrieved 2009-08-07. 
  28. ^ "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. 
  29. ^
  30. ^ "Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project Fact Sheet" (PDF). TriMet. December 2010. Retrieved 2011-01-23. 
  31. ^ "Columbia River Crossing". ODOT, WSDOT. Retrieved 2010-03-05. 
  32. ^ "Transit Investment Plan". TriMet. Retrieved 2008-08-15. 
  33. ^ Rivera, Dylan (September 5, 2009). "MAX Green Line signals decades of rail growth". The Oregonian. Retrieved 2009-11-27. 

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