Monday, December 14, 2009

Transport: Riding WES

A Westside Express Service (WES) train sat at the platform at its southern terminus of Wilsonville, Oregon on 14-December-2009

PORTLAND, OREGON - Different transit agencies have different naming conventions. Around Boulder, Colorado, there are the Hop, Skip, Jump, Bolt and Dash bus routes. Metra around Chicago, Illinois uses the names of the original (or sometimes current) railroads for its commuter rail routes (meaning that one can still ride the "Milwaukee" and "Rock Island" even those those railroad have been gone for more than twenty years. Las Vegas has its "Deuce" bus route on Las Vegas Boulevard. Around Portland, Oregon, TriMet (formally the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon) has chosen to use male names for its rail services. It started with MAX (the Metropolitan Area Express) light rail in 1986, and was expanded with WES (the Westside Express Service) commuter rail earlier this year.

The interior of the WES cars, manufactured by now-defunct Colorado Railcar, was observed at Beaverton, Oregon on 14-December-2009

This visit was my first weekday visit to Portland since WES opened on 2 February 2009, so this was my first chance to ride the rush-hour-only service. It does not operate all the way into downtown Portland, instead connecting with the MAX Red and Blue lines in Beaverton. So, I had to take MAX out to Beaverton to catch the final round trip of the morning on the 14.7 mile line to Wilsonville, Oregon.

Public art was noted at many WES stops, including this piece of interactive art at the Wilsonville, Oregon station on 14-December-2009

The route is mostly part of the former Oregon Electric interurban route that once ran all the way from Portland to Eugene, Oregon. Operated today by the Portland and Western Railroad as the Oregon Electric District, the line still hosts freight service and thus the WES equipment had to be collision-safe with freight equipment, meaning the only choice for passenger equipment was the Colorado Railcar diesel multiple-unit (DMU). Colorado Railcar failed financially as the WES order was being completed, and TriMet actually had to take over the company in order to ensure delivery of its three powered cars and one trailer. As backup, WES recently acquired two former Alaska Railroad Rail Diesel Cars (RDC's) built by Budd in the 1950's.

The recently-acquired former Alaska Railroad RDC's sat at the service facility in Wilsonville, Oregon on 14-December-2009

The Colorado cars had no issues today. I rode on the two-car set (the other two trains are a single car), enjoying the ride which averaged 33 mph (typical for a commuter railroad) with three intermediate stops. On the return trip, I had a nice conversation with the Portland & Western crew, learning that the trains generally carry 6000 people a week, though with school vacations there were clearly fewer being carried on this day. Long-term plans still call for expansion to Salem, so some day the most reliable route between Oregon's capitol and largest city may be riding WES and MAX.

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