TriMet GM launches outside review of light rail maintenance needs

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Effort will improve reliability and on-time performance

TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane has launched an outside review of the agency’s light rail maintenance system, which includes MAX vehicles and trackway. In order to better address both an aging and an expanding rail system, McFarlane wants a more comprehensive look at maintenance needs and to set a course for continuous improvement in the years ahead. This review comes after McFarlane reorganized the Operations Division in November and created a new Maintenance Division to provide greater focus and accountability on vehicle and rail system reliability.

“I am taking this action because I want to improve rail reliability issues and on-time performance. We need a better understanding of what is necessary to reach a more consistent, better level of service,” said McFarlane. “I believe our customers will soon begin to notice our progress.”

The agency has hired LTK Engineering Services to lead the outside review. LTK is a national firm with light rail expertise, including having helped build the MAX system. McFarlane looked for outside help because there isn’t enough agency staff to do this comprehensive review and he wanted an outside perspective to capture industry best practices in how we’re maintaining our system.

LTK will assess the state of repair of all vehicles and trackway, perform spot checks of selected equipment, and review maintenance records and service reliability data. A full report is expected in six months but McFarlane will provide monthly progress updates to the board of directors. The final report will include recommendations on:

  • maintenance procedures
  • training programs
  • staffing levels
  • systems repairs and upgrades

Light rail system overview
The nearly 30-year old MAX system has grown over the years:

  • 127 light rail vehicles that traveled 7.8 million miles in F13
  • 102 miles of overhead electrical system
  • 102 miles of total track – 52 service miles of track
  • 144 switches
  • 314 signals and hundreds of components in our communications system
  • 58 substations

With an aging system, much of the mid-life overhaul maintenance work comes due all at once. This is the case for our Type 2 and 3 light rail vehicles that were built around the same time, and now face a lot of heavy overhaul maintenance coming due. The same is true with various parts of our trackway. The system continues to expand with the September 2015 opening of the 7.3-mile Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Transit Project.

The LTK review is limited to a maximum cost of $245,000, but could cost less. For perspective, the budget for the Maintenance of Way and Rail Equipment Maintenance departments is more than $36 million for this fiscal year.

State of Good Repair
In addition to continued investment in the rail system, over the next year and a half, TriMet will make $2.5 million in track and switch improvements throughout the system. Additionally, in the next two and a half years, $585,000 in federal grant monies will be used to replace and improve signals, gate mechanisms and other electrical systems. Additional federal funds are set aside for TriMet in future years.

Much of the federal State of Good Repair funds are dedicated to preventive maintenance and rail enhancements. This money is in addition to millions of TriMet dedicated funds annually allocated to rail maintenance and improvements.