Where We Live: The MAX light rail system


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — It’s the fourth busiest light rail system in the nation.

The Metropolitan Area Express, or MAX, carried more than 39 million passengers in 2018. 

The system is still expanding even as TriMet deals with issues including cost, safety and new technology. 

MAX has 145 rail cars, 60 miles of track and 97 stations with $20 billion of investment around them. TriMet and local governments started talking about light rail in the late 1970s to deal with a growing pollution problem.

The first day of MAX service. (TriMet) 

The MAX blue line started rolling between downtown Portland and Gresham in 1986, setting a new course for the region’s transportation future.

“That was the one that had to sort of pave the way and prove to folks that this was a viable way to get around the region,” TriMet project manager Bob Hastings said.

Hastings said Portland’s very first MAX train is still in service as one of the trains that now criss-crosses three counties.

Construction on the MAX Pioneer Square station in the 1980s. (TriMet) 

Now MAX includes the blue, red, green, yellow and orange lines.

The orange, which goes over Tilikum Crossing and into Clackamas County, is the newest. The 7.3-mile route, completed in 2015, cost $1.5 billion. Half of it was federal money.

For visitors and urban planners, MAX helps define Portland.

“I think, like our Portland micro-brews and our Oregon wines, they want to bottle that up and take it back to wherever they are,” Hastings said. 

MAX operator Jeffrey Flanagan ferries many of the 120,000 passengers who use MAX every day.

“The hardest part about being a MAX operator is just making sure you’re alert at all times, especially when you’re going through downtown areas,” Flanagan said. 

There have been accidents and violent incidents on trains and at several stations.

A TriMet MAX train (KOIN)

“We are looking at our stations with closed-circuit televisions, with uniformed folks on the system,” he said. “I think we’re doing a lot more to address that perception of safety that folks have.”

Now Metro, the regional government, and TriMet are looking to extend MAX to the Southwest Corridor into Tigard as more people move here.

“We’re demonstrating that it is something that has worked for us as a region and certainly can be part of what we want to do as the future for the city and the region,” Hastings said. 

TriMet is also moving forward with electronic ticketing and smartphone technology that incorporates other modes of transportation, including Lyft and Uber. 

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