Thursday, June 24, 2010

Just the facts: A comparison of Portland's rail systems and two West Coast metros

Given that there's been much discussion of the different kinds of rapid transit systems (and rail systems which aren't rapid transit), today's post is a comparison of 5 west coast rail transit systems.  The first three are the three systems present in Portland (MAX, the Streetcar, and WES); the other two are two "true metros"--the subway system in Los Angeles (the LACMTA Red and Purple Lines), and Vancouver's SkyTrain system.
Rather than engage in analysis or discussion--today, it's just the data, presented in a table with a font that's probably too small for anyone to read.  Blogger doesn't seem to do scrolling tables, and my HTML chops ain't that great... I do embedded systems, not web programming, so sue me.  :)
A few notes:
  • For Portland, under-construction projects (the Streetcar Loop, and the Civic Drive MAX station) and planned projects (Columbia River Crossing MAX extension, Milwaukie MAX, and the Lake Oswego Transit project).  Only existing routes were looked at for the LA and Vancouver systems.
  • The BRT and light rail systems in LA (Blue, Green, Gold, and Orange lines) were not considered.
  • SkyTrain uses two different propulsion technologies--linear induction on the Millennium and Expo lines, and "standard" motors and drives on the Canada line; for table entries related to rolling stock, only the linear-induction vehicles are considered.
  • Some data I couldn't find (I'll do some more research later to try and fill in the gaps).  Some data probably has errors or is out-of-date.  If anyone has any corrections, please post 'em in the comments.
  • Nothing should be inferred from the fact that I chose two "full metros" to compare with Portland's systems--the reason I did so is because Portland doesn't have a similar system locally.  In this post, I make no comment, pro or con, whether a full metro line or system would be appropriate here.  Both LA (the city itself, not the greater metropolitan area) and Vancouver are significantly denser than Portland, and Vancouver doesn't have freeways in its downtown area.
In addition to the links in the table (and numerous documents hosted by Metro, Portland Streetcar, and TriMet), a few other documents used are:

SystemMetropolitan Area Express (MAX)Portland Streetcar

Westside Express Service (WES)Los Angeles County Metro Rail Red LinePurple Line and Vancouver SkyTrain

City of Portland/
Portland Streetcar, Inc.
TriMetLos Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority LACMTA)TransLink
OperatorTriMetTriMetPortland and Western RailroadLACMTA

Began service19862001200919931985
Service hours7 days7 days/wk, 16 hours weekdaysM-F, mornings and afternoons only7 days, 20 hours weekdays7 days, 20 hours weekdays

Peak time headways3-5 minutes on combined sections13 minutes30 minutes5 minutes<2 minutes
Communities served
Cedar Hills
Oak Grove
Vancouver, WA

Lake Oswego
Los Angeles, CA
Hollywood, CA
Vancouver, BC
Richmond, BC
New Westminster, BC
Burnaby, BC
Surrey, BC

Number of lines
(under construction)
12 (excluding LA light rail and BRT)3

Number of stations
(under construction)

Route miles of revenue track
(under construction)
52 miles (83.7 km)
10.2 miles (16.4 km)
3.9 miles (6.3 km)end-to-end14.7 miles (23.7 km)17.4 miles (28 km)

42.7 miles (68.7 km)
Service typeLocal/Rapid TransitLocalCommuter RailGrade-separated metro (subway)Grade-seperated driverless metro (subway, elevated)
Right-of-wayExclusive (some street-median running, some grade separation)
Shared with busses on Transit Mall
Mixed trafficMixed passenger/freight railGrade-separated

Stop spacing (typical)Average: 3300' (1km)
Yamhill/Morrison: 1100' (330m)
750' (230m)3 miles (5km)1 mile (1.6km)0.9 mile (1.5 km)
Average speedBlue Line: 20MPH (32 km.h)
Red Line: 25 MPH (40 km/h)
Yellow Line: ~15MPH (25 km/h)
Green Line: ~20MPH (32 km/h)
Transit Mall: 7.8 MPH (12.5 km/h)
Goose Hollow-Rose Quarter: 7.3MPH (12km/h)

6.9 MPH (11.1 km/h)24.1 MPH (38.8 km/h)~30 MPH (50 km/h)28 MPH (45 km/h)
Track configurationDual track (one small single-track section near Gateway)Dual/single track, continuous loopSingle-track with sidingsDual trackDual track, single track near Richmond and airport
Fare collectionProof-of-payment, some secure platforms; ticket machines at platformsProof of-payment, ticket machines on board

Proof-of-payment, ticket machines at platformsProof-of-payment, ticket machines at platformsFare gates
Proof-of-payment, ticket machines at platforms
FRA compliantNoNoYesNoNo
Rail gaugeStandard (4 ft 8+1⁄2 in / 1,435 mm)Standard (4 ft 8+1⁄2 in / 1,435 mm)Standard (4 ft 8+1⁄2 in / 1,435 mm)

Standard (4 ft 8+1⁄2 in / 1,435 mm)Standard (4 ft 8+1⁄2 in / 1,435 mm)
Power source750VDC overhead catenary750VDC overhead catenaryDirect-drive dieselThird-rail electric650VDC third-rail electric, linear induction
Rolling stock (typical)Siemens S70 (Avanto)Skoda 10T

Colorado Railcar/US Railcar DMUBreda Costruzioni Ferroviarie A650Bombardier ART Mark II (linear induction)
also Hyundai Rotem (direct drive)
Vehicle weight

49.75 tons (45.1 metric tons)31.75 tons (28.8 metric tons)88 tons (79.8 metric tons)41 tons (37.3 metric tons)26.5 tons (24 metric tons)
Vehicle top speed65 MPH (105 km/h)43.5 MPH (70 km/h)90 MPH (150km/h)70 MPH (113km/h)56 MPH (90 km/h)
Vehicle width8' 8" (2.68m)

8' 1" (2.46m)10' (3m)10' (3m)10' 6" (3.2m)
Vehicle length95' (29m)66' (20m)85' (26m)75' (23m)57' 9" (17.6m)
Minimum radius of curvature59' (18m)59' (18m)

250' (76m)largelarge
Vehicle platform typeLowLowHighHighHigh
Articulated carsYes (2 sections)Yes (3 sections)No

Married car pairsNoYes
Passenger capacity per vehicle (seated/total)68/17230/14094/24659/16941/164
Consist size1-2 cars (usually 2)1 car only1-2 cars2, 4, or 6 cars

2 or 4 cars
Crew size on board11210
Operating cost/mileUS $16?US $50

Cost/boarding ride~US $2?~US #$20

Boarding rides/weekday (2009)107,600 (excludes Green Line)12,5001,200154,355344,800


  1. That poor WES line... Good collection of data Scotty. I have been thinking and havent done the footwork to sleuth it out, but do the Skoda cars allow for linkage? Could you link them like a MAX car and effectively increase(double) the capacity of an arriving unit? I know that station design would need to be considered and I wonder if the supporting infrastructure would support the increased loading even though its spread over the length of another car.

    If you approach the concept of a rapid streetcar (they are listed as 43mph) you could effectively compete wiht buses on city streets.

    Lots of random thoughts there, but I think you get the idea.

  2. Yes, the Skoda vehicles used by Portland Streetcar do have couplings and can be entrained; the present stops are only designed for single-platform operation. (The couplings are retracted and hidden behind skirts so they are less likely to pose a problem to an auto that rear-ends a train).

    Given their length (66'), you can fit a train of 3 of them at a standard MAX stop (which is about 200' long)--though to do that, you'd probably want to couple two Skoda streetcars of the current type, to a cabless coach (which may or may not be powered itself).

    According to a thread on, the Skoda streetcars used by Portland Streetcar have limiters put on them keeping their acceleration down. A good thing for mixed-traffic, low-speed operation; but if you want to do Rapid Streetcar, you need faster top speed and greater acceleration.

    WRT street loading, the per-axle load is generally the most important factor for determining whether or not a roadbed can support a vehicle; entraining doesn't make that figure worse. (And can help if the passenger load is distributed across two vehicles rather than one). Total weight is a bigger factor for bridges; though any bridge capable of handling a TriMet bus can probably handle a short train of streetcars.

    At any rate--Sometime Soon (next week or so) I will be addressing the very issue you bring up...

  3. Im hardly qualified to speak highly intelligently on the topic, but it seems like this could be a cheaper way of constructing a rail line. Being that the roadbed costs are obviously cheaper with a streetcar.

    One can't dismiss the advantages of a LRV over the streetcar, but I think in some situations, streetcars in tandem operating much like LRV's in tandem, might make for a cheap compromise to moving larger amounts of people.

    Looking forward to what you have to say about this topic in your post.

  4. A couple points on the data: Vancouver does have articulated cars (the table says it doesn't) and it does not have fare gates, though they are planned for the future (the table says it does).

    Also, the table doesn't mention the planned Evergreen Line, even though other systems' planned lines are up there. Looking forward to the next post


  5. Thanks for the corrections, and sorry it took me so long to apply them! Leaving out the Evergreen line (and the Wilshire extension to LA's Purple Line) was intentional--number one, I'm lazy :), and number two, the full metros are included mainly to compare with the Portland systems.

    Of course, Professor Condon and others in Vancouver opposed to SkyTrain expansion frequently point to Portland as a model--perhaps this chart may inform that debate. Our style of rail transit (mostly surface rail) has some advantages--it's great for getting around downtown, or for trips to and from downtown, but it makes crosstown trips a pain. End-to-end trip time on the Blue Line, from Hillsboro to Gresham, is an hour and forty minutes; even in the worst traffic it seldom takes that long driving. OTOH, it's probably not worth spending too much money improving such trips so long as the parking's free on both ends and gas is cheap--transit money would be better spent elsewhere.

  6. You mention that the WES cars are "Diesel/Direct Drive", when, in fact, they are Diesel/Hydraulic (Diesel Engine, Hydraulic transmission), which is more popular in Europe for Diesel locomotives (and DMU's!). The most popular DMU ever made (here in America, BTW) was the Budd RDC, and was also Diesel/Hydraulic.


Keep it clean, please