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TriMet looks to learn from storm

PERSPECTIVES • Agencies weather Mother Nature's fury to their best ability

The recent storm was probably the worst in at least 30 years and one that no weather forecaster predicted accurately. Despite its rarity, extreme weather provides an opportunity to learn and be better prepared for Mother Nature's next winter curveball.

TriMet never closes and was prepared for a winter storm. But this storm turned out to be quite different.

The weather shut down MAX for 27 hours Ñ the first time ever. Snow and freezing rain were packed so tightly in the space between the track and pavement that it lifted the wheels of a 100-ton MAX train, nearly derailing it. The storm trapped numerous buses in snowdrifts and on icy roads. It was also the first time that about half of our 95 bus lines had to alter their routes because of snow. This storm severely crippled the entire region.

Employees struggled for hours to get to work, and hundreds of bus and MAX operators, mechanics, field staff and others worked around the clock to keep the system moving.

Crews worked through the night to chisel out packed snow and ice in the MAX trackway to get the train running.

TriMet buses carried between 130,000 and 150,000 passengers on each of the three storm days, compared to a normal January weekday of 200,000 riders. Considering the extensive business, school and community closures, TriMet was a real workhorse.

But we also know that riders had long waits, and we want more reliable service on the street. That's why the agency is going through a comprehensive top-to-bottom review of how we performed during the winter weather. We're looking at other transit districts and their experience in winter weather, and at new technologies and operational options. Here are some of the focus areas:

• Finding ways to keep the MAX trackway and overhead wires clear of packed snow and ice. The review ranges from investigating new devices that shave ice from the wires to simply running trains around the clock to keep ice and snow from building up on the system.

• Looking at Calgary, Alberta, which is one of the coldest regions with light rail, and its use of heated switches for paved track areas.

• Enhancing operator training to teach winter driving tips, since at least 25 percent of our operators have never driven a TriMet bus in snow and ice.

• Looking for new bus chains that perform better.

• Reviewing operations and staff deployment to better assist riders.

Some of these options can be put in place now while the review continues. In the meantime, our work force is dedicated to keeping the region moving, in any kind of weather.