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High Speed Trolleys - 3

A Practical Solution for Today's Traffic Problems

By: Bob Morrisson

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The Portland Oregon Transit Solution

The leaders of a number of cities have begun to realize that automobiles and busses are not terribly efficient for moving people. Many of these cities have studied the situation to death. A few have taken action.

Portland Oregon, in the US, has an excellent system that demonstrates the effectiveness of modern trolleys. The Portland "Max" is a marvel of efficiency and cost-effective design. The Blue Line runs from Hillsboro in the western suburbs to Gresham in the east, where part of the line was built on abandoned interurban trolley rights of way. The entire run from Hillsboro to Gresham takes around 90 minutes.

The new Red Line runs from airport to a loop at the west end of town. The maximum fare is $1.55 and passes are available. Another line serving the north side of town is under construction and a line for the south side is planned.

Portland also has a local trolley line, called the Portland Streetcar. Construction is simpler than on the Max and the cars are not intended for high speed operation. This popular line is being extended. A number of other US cities have modeled new lines on the Portland Streetcar.


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All photos are property of Robert Morrisson and may not be used without permission. Photos were taken during the last week of May, 2002.

Portland's Max is a study in simplicity and efficiency. The trains are fast (50-60 MPH) and comfortable. Two doors on each of the end units allow easy boarding and alighting. A public address system announces the next station, the route you are riding, and its destination.

This car is crossing the Portland Streetcar tracks. Note how the poles that support the overhead wire are extensions of the street lights. Note also how unobtrusive the overhead wire is, even though this is a complex intersection.

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Stations consist of large platform partially covered by a simple but attractive metal canopy. The station is at street level and no attempt has been made to isolate the passengers from the trolleys or the tracks.

Tickets are sold on the station platform and must be validated before boarding the train. Inspectors come through the trains at random times checking tickets.

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This train is operating on street trackage. Passengers board from the curb. Notice how the poles for the overhead wire are extensions of the street lights. The overhead wire is visible but barely noticeable.

Near the upper right corner of the picture you will see a signal for the trolleys. A horizontal bar indicates "stop" while a vertical bar indicates "go". The sign advises motorists that this is a railway signal.

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A low floor Max train consists of two end units and a small center section. This jointed arrangement, called "articulation", allow a long train to bend around sharp curves. The end units have a truck (wheels and motors) under the section with the high windows and the center section rides on an unpowered truck.

The train is fully skirted, which helps to keep people away from the wheels. The skirt also improves the look of the train.

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Notice the simplicity of this station. There are no stairs, escalators, or elevators. Passengers are discouraged from crossing the tracks but they are not prevented from doing so.

The Max accommodates wheelchairs very handily. Ramps cut into the curb give wheelchairs access to the station. Passengers can push a button on the side of the car to slide a plate that fills the gap between the platform and the car, allowing the wheelchair to enter or exit the car easily and quickly.

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The Portland Streetcar provides local service in the downtown area. This station at Portland State University is an example of how attractive a modern streetcar system can be.

Each car consists of three sections, two end units that sit over the trucks and a hanging center section. These cars are slower than Max trains and they run as single units. They were designed to provide local service at low speeds and they do so very effectively.

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Service on the Max is frequent, about every 5 minutes during the rush hour and every 10-20 minutes at night depending on where you are riding. Signs at some stations announce what trains will be arriving and how long the wait is. Stations are quite busy even at night, which helps to bring life to the downtown area. With people in evidence everywhere, there is less fear of walking downtown alone.

Fares are quite reasonable: $1.25 for one or two zones and $1.55 for three zones. Passes are available for unlimited riding. That third zone is quite large; it takes a half hour to go from downtown to the west end of the Blue line and almost an hour to reach the east end of the line. Most of downtown is in the "Fareless Square", with no charge for rides on the Max, busses, and the Portland Streetcar. This is a terrific enticement for people to use the system.

Portland's Max is an excellent example of how modern interurban trolley systems can be implemented. The system is fast, it is efficient, and it is quite popular.

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