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Celebrating 25 years of MAX Blue Line service to Gresham: The Line that started it all

Celebrating 25 years of MAX Blue Line service to Gresham: The Line that started it all

Opening ceremony for eastside light rail.

The MAX Blue Line opened in 1986 and was among the first light rail lines in the U.S. Since the decision to build the Eastside MAX Blue Line, the Portland region has gained an estimated 66,000 design and construction-related jobs and $2.6 billion in earnings in Oregon. In addition, more than $10 billion in development has occurred within walking distance of MAX. MAX has since expanded to 52 miles and serves all three counties in the Portland metro area.

How MAX got its name

In a contest in 1986, TriMet employees were asked to come up with name for the new light rail system, set to open the following year. Jeff Frane, who then worked as a typesetter, came up with the winning entry: “MAX” short for Metropolitan Area Express.

Jeff, who now is a business systems analyst, said he was inspired by his son, Alex, who was a year old at the time. “I used to read him these board books and there was a character—I think he was a rabbit—named Max,” Frane says. “There were criteria. The name had to be simple, had to be friendly. I was playing around with acronyms. Max just seemed like a really friendly name.”

MAX Blue Line Highlights

  • Connects Gresham and Portland City Center
  • Ridership has exceeded expectations
  • Among the first light rail systems in the nation
  • Represents our region’s shift toward innovative land-use and transportation planning
  • Catalyst for more than $4.7 billion in development and revitalization (particularly in Portland City Center and the Lloyd District)
  • Funded by the Federal Transit Administration (83%), state transportation funds (12%) and local funds (5%)
  • One of the first federally funded light rail projects, using money initially earmarked to build freeways
  • Completed on schedule and within budget

 

Read the Community Newspapers special Blue Line anniversary insert 4.3MB PDF

 

The first light rail operators

The line that started it all: MAX Blue Line to Gresham. Jim Strickland is second-to-last in the bottom row.

The last of the first rail operators:
Jim Strickland

Before the MAX Blue Line opened September 5, 1986, 41 operators, supervisors and managers lined up for a photo in front of a new MAX light rail car.

In that photo, kneeling in the front row, with his signature mustache and wearing his ever-present cap, is Jim Strickland: the last of the first MAX operators at TriMet.

“It was a party from day one,” Jim recalls, 25 years later, of the first day of MAX. “It was amazing how many people showed up—at every platform. It was a real good time; it went real smoothly. And the honeymoon lasted quite a while. It was fun.”

On the day the Blue Line opened, there was an energy that spread from Portland all the way to Gresham. Flowers, ribbon cutting, crowds of people—some of them even dressed up for the occasion—waiting their turn to ride the new MAX trains. “There was a lot of enthusiasm. It was unbelievable—almost a carnival atmosphere.”

But before the party could start, Jim and his cohorts—who liked to call themselves the “Rail Rangers”—had to prep.

“I had no idea what light rail was,” said Jim, who was 38 when he started training. He had been a bus operator at TriMet for 10 years and decided to take the test that would qualify him to train for rail. “I had never even seen a light rail car. I thought I was going to be throwing switches or something.”

During a tour of the rail yard and upon seeing a light rail car for the first time, he asked Pat Holbrook, who was a controller/supervisor, who was going to “drive those things.”

“You don’t drive those,” Pat corrected, “You operate… and the answer is you.”

Now, Jim is assistant manager of rail training for a system that has expanded to 40 more miles of track, two more counties, three more types of cars and 100 more rail operators. He has been involved in every segment of MAX since: the Westside Blue Line, the Red Line to the airport, the Yellow Line to the Expo Center and, just two years ago, the Green Line to Clackamas. There’s also a very good chance he’ll be around when the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail kicks off, which just broke ground this year.

As MAX Blue Line turns 25, we celebrate those people who have laid the tracks for TriMet.

 
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