Snow puts Tri-Met to the test

Despite preparation and planning for foul weather, last week퀌_s snow, ice, and freezing rain proved too much for Tri-Met퀌_s buses and trains to handle, causing MAX lines to be closed and buses to run on limited schedules.

Tri-Met keeps extensive plans on operating during inclement weather, but the combination of dry, chunky snow, freezing rain, and unusually cold temperatures that the Portland area saw last week was too unusual to be prepared for in advance, according to Tri-Met spokeswoman Mary Fetsch.

퀌�Our typical winter weather we are prepared for, but we have never had this kind of snow before,퀌� Fetsch said.

The entire MAX system, which ordinarily carries almost 80,000 passengers each day, ground to a halt Tuesday, as ice imbedded in track grooves caused the 100-ton trains to lose traction while headed up hills. Track switches also failed in the unusually cold weather as heating units that are designed to help melt off snow actually caused sheets of ice to form. With four trains stranded in the downtown area and two at the Rose Garden, Tri-Met issued an advisory on its Web site, www.trimet.org, that all MAX service was shut down, and shuttle buses were sent to retrieve passengers from MAX stations.

The main MAX 퀌�blue퀌� line remained closed until Thursday, with shuttle busses continuing to parallel the train퀌_s usual route. The 퀌�red퀌� line, which provides service to the airport, re-opened early Saturday morning.

Tri-Met퀌_s bus system also struggled to cope with the snowy and slippery conditions. 10 routes were detoured to snow routes and 2 lines were cancelled altogether. Despite all buses being equipped with chains, maintenance workers scrambled to free more than 100 buses that got stuck in snow drifts on Tuesday. Because of a limited amount of maintenance crews, many buses had to wait for hours before being freed from the snow. Buses continued to encounter problems with slippery roads and breaking chains throughout the week.

Many of the 83 operating bus lines ran on limited schedules throughout the week. By the weekend, most routes had returned to normal operation, but the 44 and 78 routes to Portland Community College퀌_s Sylvania Campus were not able to serve the campus until Monday.

Tri-Met is conducting a review of how the winter storm was handled that will be completed by the end of the month, according to Fetsch,. One early discovery has been the importance of Tri-Met퀌_s website to riders, which Fletsch sees as a 퀌�critical piece퀌� in serving riders. The site, which typically receives about 10,00 hits per day, but saw nearly 40,000 each day during the storm.

An effort will be made to improve website information such as the 퀌�transit tracker퀌� which allows riders to track when the next bus will be arriving at a specific stop in real-time, to make it more accurate during foul weather conditions.

About 130,000 people still rode Tri-Met each day last week despite the ice and snow. Tri-Met typically carries over 280,000 riders each day. According to Fetsch, many people who ordinarily drive may have used the bus system when they deemed it too dangerous to take their cars.

퀌�We likely saw many new riders,퀌� she said.

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