All About the Portland MAX (and associated Transit)

Discussion in 'Commuter Rail and Rail Transit Discussion' started by Matthew H Fish, Jun 14, 2019.

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  1. Jun 14, 2019 #1

    Matthew H Fish

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    Matthew H Fish

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    Since I had some success with my post about the Santiago Metro, I decided I should also write about the mass transit/lightrail system I grew up with: The MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) in Portland. I can describe this in some detail, because I was there for most of it.

    And although I know we aren't supposed to get too controversial on here, there are a lot of social and political issues that shape transit in Portland.

    The idea for the MAX started in the 1970s, when the federal and state government was planning on building a west-east freeway through the residential neighborhoods of SE Portland. At a time when most of the country still wanted to build more freeways and highways, the people of Portland protested, and suggested instead that the money be spent on a light rail line. So starting in the early 1980s, they started building a line from downtown Portland to the eastern suburb of Gresham. It opened in September of 1986. It was an overhead, electrified line that used its own right-of-way in certain areas, but had to stop at interesections in other areas. A few years later, a westward extension was planned and built. Since this involved digging a three mile long tunnel under the west hills, this took a little bit longer to open, but by 1998, the MAX ran from the western suburb of Hillsboro, to the eastern suburb of Gresham, a distance of 32 miles.
    On September 10th, 2001, an extension to the Portland Airport was opened (Yes, that is the absolute worst date an airport mass transit line could be opened)
    In 2004, the Yellow Line to North Portland was opened, in 2009, the Green Line to far SE Portland was opened, and in 2015, the Orange Line to the southern suburb of Milwaukie was opened. Currently, no new lines are in construction, although there are long term plans for more lines.

    Portland also has a trolley system around downtown, and a commuter rail between the Western suburb of Beaverton and the southern suburb of Wilsonville.

    Since its beginning, the Light Rail system has always been 100% interticketed with TriMet buses. They use the exact same fares and passes. The MAX is based on an inspection system: it is quite possible to board the MAX without a ticket or pass...but of course, you never know when a fare inspector is going to be on.

    Although people might debate the technicalities of this, one thing that is interesting to me is that while it uses the same trains along its routes, in places it is more of a "street car" type system, while in others it is almost a "commuter rail" system. The North Portland route, which goes through residential neighborhoods, doesn't have its own right-of-way, and has stations every quarter mile. The route to Hillsboro, on the other hand, has its own right-of-way, goes through empty fields in places, and some of the stations are more than a mile apart. So the system, which was originally designed for a certain section of Portland, has adapted itself as its gone to different parts of the city.

    Another part of this is that because the trains are attractive and modern, and the stations are often fancy, commuting by mass transit is considered to be a normal thing in Portland. This is sometimes exaggerated: compared to a lot of world cities, transit usage is still pretty low, but it is high for a city of Portland's size. But in general, people in Portland don't think it is odd to not have a car, and to not use it. The MAX is the United State's fourth largest Light Rail system, in terms of both

    But the attitude changes pretty quickly not far from Portland proper. There have many objections to expansion of the light rail system over the years, with many objections of "boondoggle!" as well as talks about "safety". Most communities have been happy once they do get service, but there has been some suspicion towards the idea of mass transit, some of which is warranted, some of which is driven by prejudice. In fact, one such story deserves its own post.

    In the meantime, feel free to ask me any questions about the MAX, both technical or otherwise!
     
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  2. Jun 14, 2019 #2

    Matthew H Fish

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    As you might know, Portland is in the Northwestern corner of Oregon, right on the Columbia River. Across that river is Washington, and the city of Vancouver, in Clark County.

    Vancouver and Clark County are themselves not small places, and they grew rapidly in the 1980s. Vancouver has a population of 180,000 people, and Clark County has a population of 480,000 people. Clark County makes up about one quarter of the population of the Portland metropolitan area, and Vancouver is the single largest suburb of Portland. Although referring to it as such might get you in trouble: some people in Vancouver don't like the association, even though Vancouver functions as a bedroom community for Portland.

    As long as I can remember, the Clark County transit system (C-Tran) and Trimet have been cross-ticketed for bus fares. You can get on a bus in a far suburb of Clark County, ride to a transit center, transfer to a Portland based bus, and then get on the Portland Light Rail.

    So, it might be natural to think that this light rail system could be extended across the river to Vancouver. And this has come up twice, in the 1990s, and in 2010, when Clark County voters turned down a sales tax increase. It should be noted that the second time, it was a 56%-44% defeat, and that since Clark County extends outside of Vancouver, many of the people who lived in the zone that would have been served voted yes.

    There are two reasons why the service hasn't been extended across the Columbia River.

    The first is technical: the Columbia River is a wide river. There is an island in the middle of it, but in all, to pass both channels of the Columbia would require a 1.5 mile long bridge, which does present an engineering challenge. There are also jurisdictional challenges: the city of Portland, the city of Vancouver, Multnomah County, Clark County, the state of Oregon, the state of Washington, both transit districts, the US Coast Guard, and probably the EPA would all have opinions on how to build a light rail bridge (as well as replacing the existing and aging I-5 freeway bridge). So there are real engineering reasons.

    There are a lot of cultural reasons, to. And I am not reading between the lines too much here: this is what a Washington State senator said about the proposal: "Light rail provides another mode of transportation for crime and gang activity into Vancouver." Since Clark County and Vancouver are less ethnically diverse than Portland, there was a lot of dog whistle language during discussion of the project, as if Portland was brimming full of criminals who were just waiting for a train to come to Vancouver. (Vancouver is not exactly crime free as it is). So while there is technical reasons why the light rail doesn't go to Vancouver, a lot of it seems to be based on prejudice---prejudice against mass transit, and also against "the type of people" who use mass transit.

    I still hope to get mass transit to Vancouver some day, but even if they magically decided to build it tomorrow, it will take 5-10 years to probably complete it.
     
  3. Jun 14, 2019 #3

    Willbridge

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    A clarification for an otherwise well-summarized report. The very first pro-LRT study for the Portland area was completed in 1973. It was an end run around the official planning process which was fixated on implementing Robert Moses' sketch plan for a grid of expressways for the Rose City. Citizen groups had pushed for rail transit since the spectacular end of the Portland Traction interurban division in 1958, but what got things moving in 1973 was the Energy Crisis.

    The mediocre response of the all-bus, unplanned Tri-Met system got decision makers to thinking about alternatives. Stymied by the "highways or highways" planners, Portland Mayor Neil Goldschmidt (D) and Multnomah County Commission chair Mel Gordon (R) requested that the Oregon Public Utilities Commissioner report on whether rail right-of-ways might be used for rail transit. Instead of just sending a one-pager, OPUC produced a detailed plan based on the Edmonton LRT studies, creating an uproar. This led to a "proper" 1974 study tied to the Mt. Hood Freeway alternatives study, where your account begins.

    If your library has access to the academic paper linked below, there is a lot more to be read about the transformation of metro Portland politics that occurred back then.

    https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1538513206297457
     
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2019
  4. Jun 15, 2019 #4

    bratkinson

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    Thank you Misters Fish and Willbridge for the detailed history of the Portland transit lines! Portland should be a model for all cities looking for 'revitalization and renewal' starting with carefully designed steel-wheeled transit despite political differences.

    As a transit advocate, traction fan, and New Englander, it took me until 4 years ago to 'discover' the wonderful combination of street cars and light rail in Portland! I used to regularly and reliably change trains from #14 to #28 in the late 1970s to mid-'80s returning home from business trips to California. Never had a chance to spend any 'ground time' in Portland back then.

    Fortunately, my annual vacation Amtrak joyride in 2015 had me spend an overnight layover in Portland to see and ride the trolleys I had only read about prior to then. I quickly discovered it was impossible to ride every line end to end in a single 24hr layover during daylight hours. So, I went back last year and again this year to finally finish riding all the lines in Portland, even the diesel LRV line to Wilsonville this year. Due to estimated time to get to the station before train time, I had to skip the aerial tram this year. Maybe next year.

    In all, I've been completely amazed at the large number of passengers on the transit system during non-rush hour periods when I did most of my transit riding. At times, there were insufficient seats available necessitating some standing passengers. Evening rush hour trains were fully packed, even having to leave boarding passengers behind about 5PM! Passengers with bicycles were on and off with no difficulties. Also, the large number of businesses and food and drink establishments in the downtown area amazed me when I saw single women walking their dogs after the dinner hour. I was blown away when passengers brought their dogs on board the street cars and never witnessed any problems with them, even between dogs boarding at different stops. Apparently the dogs understood the need to lay down and be quiet on the street cars. Obviously, Portland has become a very pedestrian/transit friendly city, even after dark.

    I consider Portland to be a transit-lovers 'dream town'. The streetcars are modern and comfortable even with only 1" of foam padding on the plastic seats. It would appear that the older cars (mostly on MAX) have steps to climb/descend, whereas newer equipment all has low-level boarding...a boon for not-so-agile passengers like myself. Accommodating wheelchairs is a simple push of a button on the inside or outside of the car to automatically extend a small ramp for boarding. In all, a very well thought out design of the cars as well as the curb-high platforms for passengers.

    If there's any 'negative' to mass-transit in Portland, it's the 'honor' system of fare payment. I think it's a fantastic idea and has been used elsewhere in the USA, most notably in my experience, the NJ Transit light rail lines where I've been inspected 6-7 times out of perhaps 20 rides on their light rail in the past years.

    How can that be a 'negative'? It's those that don't pay for their rides. Until this year, on all my rides in Portland, never once was my fare or anyone elses' I could see 'inspected'. This year, the ONLY inspections I encountered were on the Wilsonville line. So what? It's the homeless population that have made the light rail and street car lines their 'mobile homes'. In prior years, I didn't see any homeless on board, this year, maybe half the trains I rode had homeless passengers onboard. Ignoring their foul smell was easy enough, but the trash they leave and generally rude behavior is something else. On one MAX ride to Hatfield/Government Center, the entire rear portion of one of the 2-car trains was an 'avoid sitting there' section account one sleeping homeless person and another homeless person crudely eating 'breakfast' among the littered seats in that area of the car. The smell of urine was also quite noticeable. Both of them were oblivious to the discomfort to other passengers they were causing. Put simply, the homeless simply ride until the fare inspector catches them and forces them off the train. They simply catch the next train and start again.

    I consider the apparent shortage of fare inspectors the biggest problem on the Portland transit system. Riding 8-10 hours per day, I would anticipate I should have had my ticket inspected 2-3 times, maybe more, each day. Only 2 times in 3 years of riding - each way the same inspector to/from Wilsonville - unfathomable! It would seem that Portland, in their efforts to minimize staffing costs, simply cut the number of inspectors to a minimum level. What that has done is encourage the growing homeless population to seek shelter/warmth/cooling at no cost simply by taking a free ride as long as they can. One has to wonder how many regular, fare-paying passengers will start taking advantage of this? From what I witnessed in Newark NJ, the NJ Transit 'fare police' on the street car platform at Penn Station Newark are quite strict and give out expensive tickets for not having ones' time-stamped fare card. They should do the same in Portland. But then, would a homeless person ever pay their fine?
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2019
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  5. Jun 15, 2019 #5

    Matthew H Fish

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    Homelessness is a gigantic problem in Portland right now...that much everyone can agree on.

    Homelessness is a complicated economic and social phenomena that I have many opinions on that I don't think belong in a thread on transit policy.

    Besides where it is relevant: one of the bad things about the MAX and new urbanism is that it worked too well. Portlanders wanted to preserve their neighborhoods, avoid sprawl, and so they built a nice city that people could walk in and where you didn't need a car to drive 10 miles to Walmart to buy a box of Waffles. Young people started noticing. First the artists and nomads, but then the young professionals. Rents went up. People kept moving in. Pretty soon the artists and nomads couldn't afford the rents, but the app programmers and digital marketers could. People with normal jobs had to move to the suburbs. Traditional minority neighborhoods got gentrified and turned to condos. Some people couldn't afford rent.

    So, paradoxically, the thing that was meant to preserve Portland succeeded so hard that it failed.

    On a more prosaic level, there is probably another reason for the MAX not having many fare inspectors. I rode it daily for a decade or more, and I can probably count on one hand the amount of times I had my fare checked. But, especially in its first decade or so, the MAX was mostly a hub for bus lines. People weren't really riding from one station to another, they were using it to transfer between bus lines. And since you needed a fare to get on the bus, it didn't really help to not pay it for the MAX.

    That might not be true anymore, since the MAX works a lot more as a point-to-point system. But for a long time, it made sense as far as the system overall.
     
  6. Jun 15, 2019 #6

    flitcraft

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    Seattle's light rail and streetcar systems are also plagued by riders who aren't paying. Ticket inspectors do show up reasonably often on the light rail line, but when they catch scofflaws, they just chuck them off at the next stop. My guess is they simply hop the next train. It's hard to know what to do about this, though. I suspect most of the free-riders don't have bank accounts, so marching them to an ATM to pay the fine won't work. Mailing a fine to folks who likely don't have permanent addresses (or who give a fake one) is useless. Worse yet, the fare machines for the streetcars are often out of order, making it impossible to pay. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I'd suspect that all of these issues were being intentionally baked into the system in order to prove that rail-type mass transit isn't viable.

    One big advantage with subway systems over street level transit is that it's easy to create turnstyle tap-in, tap-out access.

    I will say that I really value having our streetcar/light rail system, as limited as it is. It's made getting to the airport simpler, and eliminated the need to use off-site airport parking, which can really add up for trips of a week or two. It also has made it possible for me to quickly get from my office to the International District, home of some of the best Asian restaurants around--so lunch has gotten tastier since the streetcar went in!
     
  7. Jun 15, 2019 #7

    Willbridge

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    The Proof of Payment (POP) fare system makes LRT and streetcar service labor and capital costs feasible in mid-sized cities. I was stationed in Germany while it was being developed to cope with their economic boom labor shortage and then worked in Edmonton to implement it in November 1980. Over and over since then it has been demonstrated that inspections and the probability of being fined have to occur an average of once a month to keep fare evasion down to the irreducible 1% or 2%. The low end includes people who just feel an absolute compulsion to steal -- on a barrier system they are leaping over or crawling under turnstiles and on a PAYE system they are trying to con or bully the bus or streetcar operator.
     
  8. Jun 16, 2019 #8

    Metra Electric Rider

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    Didn't Vancouver do away with their POP system because of losses due to fare evasion? I've lived in places with POP but it takes an honest country to make it work. The other question would be making transit free but that's a whole other ballgame as they say.

    Back to Portlandia, another factor is that Oregon has set development boundaries forcing higher density - but Washington hasn't, which had made Vancouver and other suburbs popular for cheaper housing and a car focused lifestyle (they also haven't iirc, bought into the transit district which they could as I understand it).
     
  9. Jun 16, 2019 #9

    Eric S

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    Not sure what an "honest country" is. POP is frankly standard practice worldwide. And my understanding of the Vancouver situation is that it was more caving into the perception of fare evasion rather than actually having an unreasonably high rate of fare evasion.

    (Fare gate/turnstiles are not free. And do not eliminate fare evasion.)
     
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  10. Jun 17, 2019 #10

    Matthew H Fish

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    Oregon also have an income tax and no sales tax, while Washington has a sales tax and no income tax.
    So people can live in Washington, work in Oregon, shop in Oregon, and use Oregon's services that they aren't paying for. And use Washington's services that they also aren't paying for. Needless to say, there is some consternation on both sides about this relationship.

    Also, Vancouver/Clark County, for its size, actually has pretty adequate transit service for a US city. There is 20 hour transit service on most arterial lines, and 14-16 hours service on the smaller lines, which is okay. Someone in Vancouver can still use the bus to commute, if they live on an artery. And at last culturally, people in Vancouver aren't that taken aback by the idea of bus transport. This is different from people in some US cities who I have met, who have never taken a bus and seem to think it is a weird idea.

    But still, it is an interesting story of how there is a "tipping point" of mass transit use in terms of logistics and social acceptance. Portland was a small city at the time it opened its first transit line, and is still one of the US' smaller cities, but has enough population and density where it can support one of the country's busiest light rail and bus networks. Vancouver and Clark County together are not that much smaller in population, and Vancouver is not that much less dense than Portland, but it isn't quite big or dense enough where full scale usage of transit is a normal part of the city's culture.
     
  11. Jun 17, 2019 #11

    Siegmund

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    I too have not yet seen an inspector on a MAX train, any of the half dozen or so times I've ridden it.

    By contrast -- in one round trip riding the train from the Denver airport to downtown, I had my ticket checked TWICE on the same trip inbound, and once outbound. It hardly feels like a proof of payment system at all if you're going to have inspectors on every train.
     
  12. Jun 17, 2019 #12

    Matthew H Fish

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    One thing that people are missing from the discussion of the light rail and its fare system, is that when Portland built the MAX, they weren't trying to build a train system for its own sake. The light rail mostly there as a compliment to the bus system.

    The problem was that people in the Eastern suburban area of Portland would have to ride a bus all the way from downtown, through the clogged streets of inner eastside Portland, before even getting close to their neighborhoods. And before the Westside MAX, there were big chugging articulated buses that for some reason went over the winding roads of the West Hills, and then on to Beaverton. Currently, for example, it is 20 minutes between downtown Portland and Beaverton via light rail, versus 40 minutes by bus. And currently, on the East Side, it takes 17 minutes to get to Clackamas Town Center from Gateway, versus 38 odious minutes on the bus.

    So the original reason for the light rail was just that it was necessary for the entire system to work: without the light rail, 3-5 miles was the limit to how practical a bus ride could be. But with light rail, the entire system came alive.

    Only now, as mentioned, there is lots of point-to-point commutes possible on the MAX, so that reasoning doesn't make quite as much sense.

    This is also pretty relevant to a discussion of Vancouver Light Rail, because even under the ambitious plans, the goal for the train would be to cross the river and have maybe three or four stops in downtown Vancouver. 80-90% of the people taking it from Portland would then have to transfer on to a bus to get where they are going in Vancouver. So it could seem a little unpractical to build a billion dollar light rail extension that will still necessitate a bus trip through the streets of Vancouver.
     
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  13. Jun 17, 2019 #13

    Bob Dylan

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    Some Urban Planners do Excellent Work in certain Cities, while others ( Austin,San Antonio etc) make you wonder how the Morons ever got their Jobs let alone keep them.
     
  14. Jun 18, 2019 #14

    Willbridge

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    A year ago I looked into retiring to Washington. In the case of Vancouver, I found that C-Tran local buses ran on what are known in the industry as ******* headways that made connections with their own interstate buses into Portland a bad trip. I understand why non-clock headways are necessary for some transitions such as between a daytime pattern and night pattern, but this was all day. It's not a big problem where service is more frequent. In low density areas it's often a symptom of lazy management and/or political leadership that is more focused on symbolism than on substance. So if that continues it would sabotage the interstate light rail line connections.
     
  15. Jun 18, 2019 #15

    bratkinson

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    Matthew, you make a very interesting point. Once MAX is extended into Vancouver, it would have to terminate at a transit hub comparable to Rose Quarter Transit Center or Beaverton Transit Center were there are numerous connecting bus routes. Obviously, numerous bus routes were revised to stop at, or terminate/originate at the transit center. Seeing the MAX line extending beyond Beaverton makes me think the line initially went to Beaverton and then the extension to Hatfield Government Center was added later. Vancouver could do the same thing. Initially build to a transit hub and ultimately extend it further out, possibly with a branch line to somewhere else as well.

    It's common knowledge that most transit riders would prefer a single seat ride. Even on Amtrak, I find riding the Springfield Shuttle to New Haven and switching trains there a pain in the butt. I certainly wouldn't want to do it every work day. Airline hub-and-spoke routes work great as long as 99% of the passengers are OK with changing airplanes at the hub to get from A to Z. If Vancouver wants to pick up the tab for a MAX extension to get there, I'm sure it can be done, despite politics on both sides of the Columbia River. The question becomes would Vancouver area passengers be willing to take a bus to the hub and then switch to rail there? I'd have to say 'why not?' as they have no problem switching airplanes at Denver, for example, to get to New York City. The single-seat ride is what keeps people in their car when plentiful mass transit exists. One of the tricks to get people out of their car is what is done in Chicago...make parking outrageously expensive and big traffic jams getting there. NYC is even worse with it's practically non-existent Manhattan parking and unbelievable traffic jams. I chortle to myself every time I ride Amtrak into NYC and see the traffic at a standstill on I-95.

    As a railfan, I always thought that it would really be great to ride a commuter train every day to work and back. But in the past 4 years, satisfying my goal of riding every commuter train route out of NYC (LIRR, MN, and NJT) the 'long faces' on most of the passengers forced to ride for 30-90 minutes each way then get in their car (expensive parking) makes me happy that I never had to live that far away from my workplace, usually 15-20 minutes.

    Maybe 'build it, and they will come' will work for Vancouver. It certainly worked great in Portland!
     
  16. Jun 18, 2019 #16

    Matthew H Fish

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    The Hillsboro Line was opened all at one, or at least Beaverton and Hillsboro were, but in planning, I believe it was going to end near Beaverton. Beaverton is definitely a transit hub for everything in the west metro area.

    The Vancouver Yellow Line would probably cross the river to downtown Vancouver, then run up to the Clark College campus, just outside of downtown. Currently, Vancouver already has a BRT line running up the main artery, Fourth Plain, along that route, and that would be the obvious line for Light Rail. In a "dream scenario", there might also be a branch northward towards the Salmon Creek area, along I-5. And also the Red Line to PDX could be extended across the river to meet this line. But for the foreseeable future, the main usage of the the Yellow Line to Vancouver would be to carry people to and from Portland, not to carry people in Vancouver.

    I think that having to make a bus transfer is not as odious as it seems, but it is something that...raises eyebrows. Like, when people make transit choices, both personal, and long range planning, sometimes pretty simple problems can seem like deal breakers. Walking across a transit center in the rain, having to deal with a panhandler, waiting 5 or 10 minutes...all of these are things that make an efficient system seem troublesome. Once people get used to it, it can be okay, and in Portland, waiting at a train stop can be pleasant. But it is part of the "Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt" that make people wonder about mass transit.

    But I think that you are right "Build It And They Will Come"...people in Portland, who have experience with the MAX, tend to like it, even when it has slight delays. I think that once people came to Vancouver, they would like it pretty quickly.
     
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  17. Jun 18, 2019 #17

    Matthew H Fish

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    Oh, and something Amtrak related:

    The MAX Light Rail in Portland goes directly by Union Station, like you can take the train to Amtrak with a walk of 200 feet.

    In Vancouver, the Amtrak station is out in a weird-to-navigate warehouse district west of downtown, and I still have problems finding it. The closest bus, which is one of the smaller routes, incidentally passes by, about five blocks away.

    So that is another thing that Vancouver could work on with intermodality...
     
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  18. Jun 18, 2019 #18

    Willbridge

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    This is applicable to the A-Line because of the special fare zone at the airport. It occurs to some people to buy an inner zone ticket and ride through to DIA. This folklore-based scam was abetted by inspections done on a quick basis on other long lines, checking only for date/time validity.

    The second part of this special situation is that the FRA wants two-man crews on the trains it regulates. There is no coal to shovel and as an all-new signalized and PTC'ed system there isn't much for a conductor to do. A two-man crew is no more needed than on the Berlin S-Bahn, for example. So, the security guards can be seen carrying out the remaining duties of a conductor.

    The third part is security work. For whatever reasons, people who try to steal rides are likely to have other issues. A train full of people with luggage, fancy cameras, etc. that makes intermediate stops in an industrial area could be tempting. Checking fares offers a raison d'etre for looking every passenger in the eye.

    I've been riding rail transit lines in the Denver region since 10 October 1994 and have only been double-checked once, aside from on the airport A-Line. That was late at night by plainclothes Lakewood officers, followed by plainclothes Denver officers on the W-Line. I doubt if they were checking the fare zones, but they were looking at date/time validity.
     
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  19. Jun 18, 2019 #19

    Willbridge

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    The Vancouver (SP&S Rwy) station was situated to mesh with a new line from Puget Sound, a new line from Pasco and a new bridge over the Columbia, all built decades after the city was platted.

    A long walk has been the case with bus access since at least the 1950's. Downtown Vancouver developed around the ferry landing upstream of the rail station, before there was a rail station. Narrow-gauge streetcars of the Portland system ran up what is now Martin Luther King Blvd from Portland, and later on less-congested Williams Avenue, then on a longgg trestle to connect with the ferry. Vancouver had a separate system of city streetcars that focused on the ferry.

    When the Interstate Bridge opened, the Portland interurban line was extended into downtown Vancouver, but the two systems remained separate. Later on, Vancouver-Portland Bus Co. replaced the interurban, so three cash fares of three companies were involved to get from our dentist to our home. In the late 1960's the adult Portland - Vancouver fare was 35 cents, as was the rail fare. However, hardly anyone made the 10-mile trip on the five trains a day because of the isolated station.
     
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  20. Jun 19, 2019 #20

    jis

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    This is really great info and background! Thanks!
     
  21. Jun 27, 2019 #21

    bratkinson

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    Intermodality is 'key' to me in my Amtrak travels. When I'm going to spend a night in a city, my goal is to find a transit line that runs to or past the Amtrak station and stops close to a reasonably priced hotel/motel. In Portland, the University Place Hotel is an enjoyable MAX ride from Union Station. The New Orleans streetcar ends at NOUPT and passes several hotels, most notably a Hyatt and Holiday Inn, both within walking distance from the station (I've walked both as well as have ridden). When I'm riding Amtrak to get to some commuter lines such as Metro North or SEPTA, switching from Amtrak to a commuter line is a breeze, although I sometimes have to take a separate line to get to one I want to ride.

    All the big city stations WAS to BOS on the NEC have intermodal rail connections either underground or within 100 feet of the door as does CHI, STL, DAL, FTW, LAX, SAN, SJC, OKJ, SAC, SEA, and, of course, PDX. Connecting to buses such as Amtrak Thruway is OK for non-commuters, but in my opinion, taking a Thruway bus on a daily basis to get to work would make most commutes longer than 60 minutes is a non-starter. In my own observation, I think most 'commuters' on Amtrak are not every day riders, at least on the NEC. Price vs comfort vs schedule frequency favors the likes of Metro North and the other commuter lines that share the NEC. Amtrak 'commuters' I've talked with or seen multiple times usually go in to the city on Monday or Tuesday, and come back on Wednesday-Friday. One Amtrak NEC commuter I rode with numerous times did just that every other week (he and I get on and off at WNL), in on Tuesday to corporate HQ and back on Wednesday, including a 20 minute LIRR ride as well. For him, it was about 4 hours each way between home and HQ. A 6:10AM departure from WNL on Tuesdays and 9:50PM arrival at WNL on Wednesdays made two very long days for him.

    As for Vancouver, having 2 or 3 bus routes with schedules that mess well with arriving and departing trains would be ideal. As for a light-rail to city bus or MAX to city bus, that works well in Portland from what I've seen. Whether an extended MAX line or light rail line goes to Vancouver, perhaps the best 'transit hub' location would be 100-200 feet from the Vancouver Amtrak station. That would mesh well with a commuter train along the former SP&S line in the future.

    In short, the trend towards multimodal stations including trains to planes as well as trains to light/medium/heavy rail and buses is the transportation 'glue' of the future. Most major cities have accomplished this to varying degrees already. It's up to smaller communities such as Vancouver to do that as well.
     
  22. Jun 27, 2019 #22

    jis

    jis

    jis

    Conductor AU Lifetime Supporter Gathering Team Member

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    Plane to Train integration of the extremely intimate kind...

    At Amsterdam Schiphol central arrival concourse you see the entrance to tracks 1/2 and in the background 3/4 with the next departure displayed. The platforms are right underneath. All trains from Amsterdam to the South including Thalys to Paris and Brussels stop there. The little yellow posts in the foreground are the tapping points for the OV Chip Card, which is the common fare instrument for all public transit in the Netherlands, except in high speed trains which require reservation and international trains. There is a staffed ticket office along the back wall right under where you see the blue Schiphol sign. But most people deal only with the yellow TVMs that you see by the platform entry point.

    IMG_6078.jpg
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2019
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  23. Jul 1, 2019 #23

    Willbridge

    Willbridge

    Willbridge

    Train Attendant

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    You're right that intermodal connections are a good thing, but I've worked on intermodal station projects and Vancouver, WA is a tough nut to crack. My guess is that several other Cascades Corridor stations are more likely to gain intermodal status before Van. Neither Tri-Met nor C-Tran have shown an interest. The Portland Union Station intermodal features were instigated by ODOT, with Tri-Met being the last piece of the puzzle. And Tri-Met misses out on strengthening the intermodal terminal by imposing a transfer between the airport and Union Station.

    My dad remembers SP&S commuter trains, and when I was a kid the loop that they turned on in the Vancouver Shipyard was still there. That brought them past downtown Vancouver and things like that would have to be considered in any serious effort.
     
  24. Jul 1, 2019 #24

    Matthew H Fish

    M

    Matthew H Fish

    Train Attendant

    Joined:
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    While it would seem to make sense to put an intermodal station next to the Vancouver Amtrak station, there are reasons that it would be both really difficult and not very useful, mostly based on accidents of geography.

    First, the Amtrak station is located at the western edge of Vancouver. Probably only 1-3% of the area's population lives west of the station. The only things west of the station are a single residential neighborhood, and then a lot of port and industrial stuff, and lots of wetland, including Vancouver Lake. The most natural place for a Vancouver Light Rail to come across is downtown Vancouver. This is a little less than a mile east of the train station, but in order to get to the station, it would have to take a sharp turn to the left after reaching Vancouver, to the train station, and then turn back to the east to the route that most people would want to take: up Fourth Plain.

    Then there is the location of the Vancouver Amtrak station itself. It lies right in the middle of a triple interchange of railroad tracks: basically where the North-South tracks (Seattle to Eugene) and West-East tracks (Portland to Spokane) come together to form a triangle. Because this is a busy area, there are three sets of tracks in some locations. To build light rail tracks over them would probably delay lots of heavy freight rail trains during construction, and with the same problem during operation.

    So, even though a Vancouver intermodal station sounds good...it presents significant logistical difficulties. Many of which date back to the construction of the Northern Pacific (Portland-Seattle) and Seattle Portland and Spokane railways, which were constructed more than a 100 years ago, when Portland and Seattle were small logging towns in the middle of nowhere, and automobiles hadn't been invented yet.
     
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  25. Jul 1, 2019 #25

    Willbridge

    Willbridge

    Willbridge

    Train Attendant

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    That's a good summary. The SP&S Vancouver station was built as the operations heart of that railway, with the telegraphers situated where they could see both main lines and the Columbia River drawspan. The third leg of the wye connecting the North Bank Line with the Pool Line has very slow moving freights on its curve. (It has been used for passenger detours and for the beloved SF Bay Area to interior BC "Caribou Country Specials"). It's a tricky area. My pre-Amtrak file photo may add to this understanding. It's looking south (timetable direction westbound), with the station on the left.

    Van051.jpg
     
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