In General
the LRV's


In General

Location / Name:
Portland OR, Multnomah County

What's Here:
TriMet MAX Light Rail - 5 lines
Portland Streetcar - 3 lines
Westside Express Commuter Rail

GPS Coordinates: as needed
Phone A/C: 503
ZIP: 97201 (dntn)

Access by train/transit:
Amtrak at Union Station
TriMet MAX Light Rail
Portland Streetcar downtown
Commuter Rail in Beaverton

The Scoop:

The MAX Light Rail system in Portland is a 94 station system running on approximately 60 miles (96km) of track on five lines.

Service frequency runs from 30 minutes off peak, to about every 3 minutes during the rush hour.

According to Wikipedia, the system is the forth busiest after Los Angeles, Boston, and San Francisco.

The first leg of the system opened on September 5, 1986, after four years of construction.  Service was between 11th Avenue in downtown Portland and Cleveland Avenue in Gresham.  This core system was the start of the Blue Line, altho the Blue Line name was not adopted until 2001.

The Blue Line was expanded west in 1998 to downtown Hillsboro, after a massive tunneling project.  As a result of this tunnel, the MAX system has the deepest station in the United States at 260 feet (79m).  Construction costs were about double the projected costs due to soft dirt and sandstone which made the use of the TBM (tunnel boring machine) ineffective.

The Red Line was the next section to be built, and opened in 2001.  The Red Line went from Beaverton on the west end, thru downtown on the same route as the Blue Line, and then northeast to the Portland Airport (PDX).

Following the Red Line, was the Yellow Line from PSU downtown, north to the Expo Center in 2004, taking the turn north at the double track wye, just on the east side of the Willamette River.

The Green Line opened in two phases in August and November of 2009, going from PSU to Clackamas Town Center, and sharing the Gateway/NE 99th TC as the last station on the Blue Line as the Red Line does.

The Orange Line was the last to open in 2015, and goes from NE Glisan south to Milwaukie, crossing over the Willamette River on the new Tilikum Crossing bridge, along with the Portland Streetcar.

Rick Holm
Greg Martin
Steve Morgan
Denver Todd

Websites and other additional information sources of interest for the area:,_Oregon) (TriMet Brochure)


Comprehensive map of the MAX Light Rail, WES, and Portland Streetcar System.


One of the more fascinating features of the system is this double track wye, just on the eastern side of the Steel Bridge crossing.

The LRV's

From Wikipedia:
As of 2020, TriMet operates five models of light rail vehicles that are designated as "Type 1" through "Type 5", of which two are successive upgrades of the same model. The agency has 145 cars that vary in length, from 88 feet (26.8 m) to 95 feet (29.0 m), and are all used interchangeably by every service on the network. With Portland's relatively small 200-foot (61 m) downtown blocks, services operate with only one or two cars to prevent stationary trains from blocking intersections. Type 2 and 3 low-floor vehicles may run singularly or coupled to another Type 1, 2, or 3 vehicle. Type 1 high-floor vehicles are also capable of running singularly, but doing so would constrain accessibility due to a lack of wheelchair access. Thus, a high-floor car must be coupled with a low-floor car. Type 4 and 5 cars can only be coupled to one another.

Twenty-six Type 1 high-floor vehicles were produced for the Banfield light rail project by a joint venture between Bombardier and La Brugeoise et Nivelles beginning in 1983. TriMet announced it would purchase seven additional vehicles that August, but a budget shortfall forced the agency to withdraw this proposal the following November. The cars are similar in design to Bombardier vehicles that had been used in Rio de Janeiro. Bombardier built the frames in Quebec but its factory in Barre, Vermont manufactured the majority of each car, the first of which arrived in Portland in 1984. Each 45-short-ton (41 t) car is single-articulated and contains six axles. The high floors connect with the low platforms through interior steps, which necessitated platform wheelchair lifts until the arrival of low-floor cars. A car sits 76 people and has an overall capacity of 166.

A type 1 (high floor) and a type 2 (low floor) in downtown Portland.

Steve Morgan

In 1992, TriMet officials conducted an accessibility study and determined that low-floor cars were the most cost-effective alternative to providing universal access. MAX then became the first light rail system in North America to acquire low-floor train sets when TriMet procured 39 model SD660 cars from Siemens in 1993. These Type 2 cars were equipped with doorway wheelchair ramps. They entered service during the partial opening of the Westside MAX in 1997. By 2000, TriMet had ordered 17 more Type 2 cars including six for the Airport MAX project.

The system's 27 Type 3 vehicles, which the agency purchased as part of the Interstate MAX project and first brought into use in 2003, are the same model as the Type 2 vehicles but with technical upgrades and a new livery.  They are Siemens model number SD660, and have 60Hz AC motors instead of DC motors.

Steve Morgan, 2015

Twenty-two Siemens S70 low-floor cars, which were designated Type 4, were purchased in conjunction with the I-205 MAX and Portland Transit Mall projects, and were first used in 2009. Type 4 cars have a more streamlined design and more seating, and are lighter and more energy-efficient than the previous models. The Type 4 cars were the first in the MAX network to use LED-type destination signs.

Type 4, 2009, Steve Morgan

The second series of S70 cars, TriMet's Type 5 vehicles, were procured for the Portland–Milwaukie light rail project. TriMet placed an order for the Type 5 cars with Siemens in 2012 and delivery commenced in 2014. These vehicles include some improvements over the Type 4 cars, including less-cramped interior seating, and improvements to the air-conditioning system and wheelchair ramps.

In July 2019, TriMet placed an order for 26 Siemens S700 light rail vehicles that are intended to replace the system's Type 1 vehicles. The first car is expected to be delivered in 2021.

Auxillary Equipment and the Like


The TriMet light rail system is powered by a conventional 750-volt DC overhead system.  In central city areas, a single contact wire is used to minimize the amount of overhead wiring.  All other locations use a dual-wire catenary, having a contact wire supported by a messenger wire, allowing higher speeds and requiring fewer poles.


Substations convert high voltage power from the public supply to the 750-volt DC power used by trains. MAX substations are spaced at roughly one mile intervals. The power system can bridge any one substation so trains can continue to run when a substation or its supply is down. On the MAX Orange Line, one substation was replaced with an energy storage unit that captures and stores electrical energy generated by trains during braking, and feeds it back into the system when the trains accelerate.

Here are a few pictures of a section break at 3rd and Glisan, on the Green/Yellow line in downtown, with close-ups of the feeder on the pole, and the insulated-joint (IJ) on the catenary, which separates two power districts.  Power on either side of the IJ would come from two separate substations, but in the event of a failure of one of them, the equipment at the top of the poles, which are basically high power switches, can be used to connect one power district to another.  You can see the power feed coming out of the pole at the arrow.  The substation here must be inside one of the buildings.

Above, you can see how one of the switches is open, and, viewing from the other side, we can see how the switch is closed...

Minimizing visual impact

(From TriMet Brochure) In Downtown Portland, ornamental poles support the overhead wiring and street lighting. In some locations, buildings and bridge structures are used to avoid the need for poles. A handful of buildings on 5th and 6th avenues in downtown Portland were utilized in this manner. Extensive tree planting and tall buildings often mask the silhouette of the wires. On Interstate MAX, light poles in the street median support the overhead

Gated crossings

(From TriMet Brochure) The MAX system includes 48 at-grade crossings which are equipped with gates, lights and bells. Crossings adjacent to stations use wayside signals and ATS to hold the train at the platform until the minimum crossing warning is completed. Where signal-controlled intersections are close to gated crossings, interconnect systems provide traffic time to clear out. Gates, lights and bells are used in conjunction with ABS where line of sight operations are impractical due to LRT speeds and/or track alignment.

Traffic signals and MAX interlockings

(From TriMet Brochure) Where the track configuration, street geometry and MAX operations dictate, street interlocking protection facilitates train moves by means of powered switches. Traffic signal preempt and route signaling are merged into a single signal head to simplify the information given to the operator.

Traffic interface

(From TriMet Brochure) TriMet and the local traffic signal jurisdictions use various interconnect methods to accomplish two major goals: first, to provide safe operations for both MAX and vehicle traffic, and second, to minimize delays to both MAX and vehicle traffic. Traffic interface has to be site specific, use proven equipment, and be simple to program and maintain.

Preempt strategies: Preemption varies by degree. For the most part, MAX operates between station platforms without stopping for intermediate intersections. East Burnside Street sections of Interstate MAX, and Portland to Milwaukie In these segments, the trains operate at track speeds of up to 35 mph within the median of city streets.

Trains preempt the intersections using conventional traffic signal equipment. Trains are detected by inductive loops or by train-to-wayside communications loops, and the intersection controller starts a pre-timed routine that will bring up the preempt while the train is still a safe stopping distance from the intersection.Wayside preempt indicators display four traffic signals to the LRT operator: yellow horizontal, flashing yellow horizontal, white vertical and flashing white vertical. Colored signal indications such as Ts or Xs can be misinterpreted by vision-challenged motorists. To avoid confusion to motorists, TriMet has adopted the bar signal system used in Europe for buses and rail transit.

A “Decision Point” marker is installed on the track to help the operator decide what speed to use. In the event a preempt does not occur, the train can stop at the normal service braking rate. A second detector communicates with the traffic signal controller as soon as the train has cleared the intersection, allowing normal operation to resume.

Hillsboro: Hillsboro uses a similar concept except that the narrow roadway prevented installation of left turn pockets at intersections. Left turns are permitted across the tracks by running the trains through the intersections on an “all-red” phase. Left turns are then permitted simply by not being prohibited. Train speeds do not exceed 25 mph in this segment.

Downtown Portland: The city center’s 200-foot blocks and alternating one-way streets allow a traffic progression at approximately 15 mph in all four directions. MAX runs on the Morrison/Yamhill streets and the 5th/6th avenues couplets within this progression. TriMet operates at 3-minute headways in the streets with negligible impact on cross traffic.

On 5th and 6th avenues, buses and light rail trains share dedicated transit lanes on the right. Trains travel in the center or right lane, stopping at curbside platforms on the right approximately every 5 blocks. Buses also travel in the center or right lane except to pull over at their stops. Motor vehicles and bikes only travel in the left hand lane. Separate signals are used for trains, buses, and cars and bikes. When trains have a signal to proceed through an intersection, buses, cars and bikes traveling in the same direction have red lights until the train has cleared the intersection. Right turns across the transit lanes are prohibited except at three signalized intersections. On Yamhill and Morrison streets, parallel traffic can turn across the tracks on a green signal. A train-actuated white bar signal allows the train to enter the intersection ahead of any turning traffic. The few seconds required for this advance white bar is gained by shortening the two succeeding green phases.


  The Steel Bridge

GPS Coordinates: 45.527507, -122.669221 (center)

This is the middle bridge of the three used by rail transit in Portland, and is only used by the MAX Light Rail.

The wye mentioned above is a stones throw from the unique Steel Bridge, that carries the light rail and cars on the upper deck, and UP trains on the lower deck of this vertical lift bridge.

Steve Morgan

Steve Morgan, 2009

Steverelei, 2003

  The Tilikum Crossing Bridge

GPS Coordinates: 45.504901, -122.667071 (center)

This is the southern most of the three bridges used by rail transit in Portland, and is used by both the Portland Streetcar and MAX Light Rail.  It is a "fancy" cable-stayed bridge which opened in 2015.  It carries no vehicular traffic, and is only open to pedestrians, cyclists & mass transit.

Here is the bridge shown with a MAX Light Rail car and a Portland Streetcar crossing it.

Steve Morgan, 2016

  The Broadway Bridge

GPS Coordinates: 45.531845, -122.674125 (center)

This is the northern most of the three bridges used by rail transit in Portland, and is used by the Portland Streetcar.

The Broadway Bridge was built in 1911-12, with a new approach added in 1927 and an old approach replaced by the City of Portland in 1999-2002. It carries four lanes of automobile traffic and one streetcar line, and is also a popular river crossing for people on bicycles. It was originally painted black, but was repainted to “Golden Gate Red” in 1963. Vertical clearance of the closed bascule span is adequate for the majority of river traffic, with openings necessary about 25 times per month, primarily to accommodate grain terminal ships. The full structure totals 1,613 feet in length and consists of a 278-foot double-leaf Rall bascule main channel draw span, three Pennsylvania-Petit Through truss spans of 270 feet, 286 feet and 297 feet on the western approach, and one Pennsylvania-Petit Through truss of 297 feet and one Warren Through truss of 185 feet on the eastern approach.

In the first picture, the guided missile destroyer USS Pinckney is passing under the bridge, headed towards Portland and the Steel Bridge.  Picture taken by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Marc Cuenca.

Steve Morgan

  Over I-84 & I-205

GPS Coordinates: 45.532082, -122.565359 (center)

A long overpass that goes over Interstate 84, Interstate 205, and the Red Line to the PDX Airport.


From Wikipedia: Approximately 70 percent of the MAX system uses automatic block signaling (ABS). This allows for faster operating speeds - up to 55 miles per hour (89 km/h), and short headways. In particular, between Lloyd Center/Northeast 11th Avenue station and Gateway Transit Center along the Banfield Freeway -- where Blue, Green, and Red lines interline -- ABS allows for an operating headway of two minutes. In these sections, automatic train stops (ATS) enforce speed limits and automatically apply the brakes should a train operator fail to do so. The remaining 30 percent of the system, which runs in city street medians, relies on traffic signals and line-of-sight operation. Speeds do not exceed 35 mph (56 km/h) in these sections.

From TriMet Brochure... Signals and train control: Approximately 30 percent of the TriMet light rail transit (LRT) line operates in the median of city streets. In these sections, train operation is based on traffic signals and line of sight. Train operators observe traffic signals and are prepared to stop short of any obstruction. Speeds do not exceed 35 mph in these sections and are generally restricted to 15–30 mph.

Also from the TriMet Brochure... Block signal system and ATS: Where operating speeds do not allow line-of-sight operation, TriMet uses three-aspect, Automatic Block System (ABS) wayside signals. In these sections, Automatic Train Stops (ATS) apply train braking automatically should the train operator fail to obey a red (stop) signal. In some sensitive areas, ATS also provides for speed enforcement. Approximately 70 percent of the MAX alignment uses ABS signaling. Interlockings provide for both interline routes and turn-backs, with power switches where the MAX Red Line, Yellow Line, Green Line and Orange Line intersect the Blue Line. The end of each line has turn-backs with power switches. Reverse running is provided in the Washington Park tunnel and in single-track sections of the MAX Red Line. The ABS system provides a design headway of two minutes forty-five seconds for a scheduled headway of three minutes. One section of track, between Gateway and Lloyd Center, is built to accommodate 2-minute scheduled headways.

I have to say, the MaxFacts pages on the light rail signals is one of the most complete treatments I have seen of any railroad or transit fan websites.  All of the screen grabs below come from those pages.

One thing to note, the signal colors are arranged in vehicular fashion, what I call "reverse format", where the red is at the top of the signal instead of the bottom.  Baltimore signals are the same way, and when I worked there, the reasoning I heard is that it made it easier on the operators since they were bus drivers, to keep it the same as what they were used to.  Minneapolis had standard railroad type signals (with red on the bottom), and then at some point, maybe around 2008, went to the reverse format too.

Interesting that for the yellow aspect, it does not tell the operator to slow down and prepare to stop at the next signal, just in case the train in front of him has not moved.  Maybe it is an oversight since this is not the official operators guide???



Looks like the signal has been replaced since the page was originally done in 2010.  At the bottom of the bridge, you can see a switch, necessitating a lunar signal.
The single lunar signal indicates the train will be going on to the primary route.
The diverging route could be either a red/lunar, or a red/yellow according to the other screen grabs below...


The areas shaded in green are ABS territories.


I love trains, and I love signals.  I am not an expert.  My webpages reflect what I find on the topic of the page.  This is something I have fun with while trying to help others.

Please Note:  Since the main focus of my two websites is railroad signals, the railfan guides are oriented towards the signal fan being able to locate them.  For those of you into the modeling aspect of our hobby, my indexa page has a list of almost everything railroad oriented I can think of to provide you with at least a few pictures to help you detail your pike.

If this is a railfan page, every effort has been made to make sure that the information contained on this map and in this railfan guide is correct.  Once in a while, an error may creep in :-)

My philosophy: Pictures and maps are worth a thousand words, especially for railfanning.  Text descriptions only get you so far, especially if you get lost or disoriented.  Take along good maps.... a GPS is OK to get somewhere, but maps are still better if you get lost!  I belong to AAA, which allows you to get local maps for free when you visit the local branches.  ADC puts out a nice series of county maps for the Washington DC area, but their state maps do not have the railroads on them.  If you can find em, I like the National Geographic map book of the U.S..... good, clear, and concise graphics, and they do a really good job of showing you where tourist type attractions are, although they too lack the railroads.  Other notes about specific areas will show up on that page if known.

Aerial shots were taken from either Google or Bing Maps as noted.  Screen captures are made with Snagit, a Techsmith product... a great tool if you have never used it! 

By the way, floobydust is a term I picked up 30-40 years ago from a National Semiconductor data book, and means miscellaneous and/or other stuff.

Pictures and additional information is always needed if anyone feels inclined to take 'em, send 'em, and share 'em, or if you have something to add or correct.... credit is always given!  Please be NICE!!!  Contact info is here

Beware: If used as a source, ANYTHING from Wikipedia must be treated as being possibly being inaccurate, wrong, or not true.


New SEP02/2013, JUL27/2020
last Modified: 28 Jul 2020