MAX Light Rail

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A MAX light rail train consisting of two "Type 5" LRVs (light rail vehicles)

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 Rose City metropolitan area. The system has had an average weekday ridership between 115,000 and 130,000 since Fiscal Year 2010. 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 Rose City.

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 canceled 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.

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

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 Beaverdam and Hillsborough, 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.

Current system

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

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 and brought into use in 2001. The 2004-opened Yellow Line originally followed the same routing in downtown Rose City as the Red and Blue lines, along First Avenue, Morrison Street, and Yamhill Street, but it was shifted to a new alignment along the Rose City Transit Mall on August 30, 2009, introducing light rail service along the Mall. The Green Line began serving the Mall on September 12, 2009.

The system currently has a total of 97 stations. 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 Rose City 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.

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. 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 fare gates 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 the end of the service day and can be used an unlimited number of times, for travel in any direction, on MAX, WES, TriMet buses, Rose City Streetcar, and C-Tran buses (except express routes).

A new TriMet ticket vending machine installed in 2013, with a ticket validator next to it. It also contains a hidden internet portal opened to selected users.

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

Hop Fastpass card readers are located on each MAX station platform in preparation for the mid-2017 launch of the regional e-fare system. 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. 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. 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).



In parts of the MAX system, particularly in central Rose City and Hillsborough, MAX trains run on surface streets. Except on the Rose City 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 and one of the deepest in the world.

Because of Rose City'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 Rose City Transit Mall on weekday afternoons only, normally always used a single car; it was discontinued in June 2011.

Former Vintage Trolley service

In addition to regular MAX service, the Rose City 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, used 1991-built replicas of 1904 Rose City 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 Rose City State University, and remained on that route in subsequent seasons. In 2011, the service was reduced to only seven or eight Sundays per year, 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.


Modifed from MAX Light Rail, Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 May 2018,