As security plans are announced for light rail stations, WES moves closer to reality

TriMet's latest effort to improve security along the MAX light-rail system places a very low, inadequate hurdle in front of potential criminals and fare evaders.

The transit agency deserves credit for trying, but the increased security plans it announced recently are not aggressive enough. A more robust and geographically diverse approach is required to make light rail safer - both for passengers and for neighborhoods surrounding MAX stations.

For now, the transit agency is investing $600,000 as part of an experiment to enclose just two MAX stations on its system - the Gresham Central Station and the Northeast 82nd Avenue platform. It's hard to argue with those choices, especially considering the loitering, vandalism, drug dealing and even stabbings that have occurred in the vicinity of Gresham Central Station.

TriMet's idea is to reduce that type of behavior by making the troublesome Gresham station the first to be physically enclosed and by further emphasizing the 'fare zone' at the 82nd Avenue platform. Anyone inside those boundaries would be required to have a ticket to ride.

However, according to TriMet's safety plan, the Gresham station's fence would be a mere 42 inches tall - a height that could be scaled in a single bound.

Another obvious concern is whether TriMet will have fare inspectors on hand to check tickets at all hours of the day. The agency says it will do random checks - but regular MAX riders know that hasn't been an effective tactic in the past.

And even if TriMet is successful in reducing loitering and criminal activity at these two light-rail stations, it may only be shifting those problems up or down the MAX line.

While TriMet's safety plan for the two stations has drawbacks, the agency is making other worthwhile improvements. The project includes better lighting and signage for the two platforms. And we are encouraged that TriMet isn't saying this is a complete solution - it is billing the changes as a first-step experiment to see if other stations in the MAX system would benefit from greater security measures.

We're all in favor of experimentation, as long as the exercise isn't designed to fail. If problems persist after the changes are implemented, then TriMet must be willing to expand its efforts - and not simply say this experiment with safety was a failure.

Meanwhile, a bit closer to home is what TriMet has going on the west side of the Willamette River.

Components of TriMet's Westside Express Service commuter rail have started arriving in Wilsonville. TriMet hopes to have the commuter rail line up and running sometime this fall, either in October or November.

The rail system's diesel multiple units and trailer cars are being built at the Colorado Railcar Manufacturing facility in Fort Lupton, Colo.

TriMet's WES project - a commuter rail line costing $117.3 million that stretches 14.7 miles from Beaverton to Wilsonville - is close to 100 percent complete and all the track is in place. Work continues to be done at the various stations along the route.

In the beginning, WES will operate using DMUs without a trailer car. Each DMU can accommodate 74 seated passengers, two mobility devices and two bicycles. When a DMU is paired with a trailer, another 80 seats are available along with space for two additional mobility devices and two bicycles.

Traveling at an average of 37 mph and at a top speed of 60 mph, WES is expected to make a trip from Beaverton to Wilsonville in 27 minutes. The system is designed to run every 30 minutes during morning and evening rush hours. The five commuter rail stations will have a total of 700 park-and-ride spaces.

Portland and Western Railroad will operate the commuter trains with an engineer and a conductor on board.

When completed, WES will connect to the Beaverton Transit Center, which serves nearly a dozen bus lines and MAX Blue and Red lines. Bus services will also be provided at each of the five commuter rail stations along the line in Beaverton, Tigard, Tualatin and Wilsonville.

While Lake Oswego and West Linn are not part of this initial Westside rail effort, local officials continue to hope to one day bring the Portland Streetcar into downtown Lake Oswego.

We understand that there are Clackamas County residents who are adamantly opposed to the notion of the streetcar connecting Portland and Lake Oswego. However, we are not willing, at this point, to give up on the concept of providing such service to the rest of the metro area.

With an honest-to-goodness energy crisis along with a real need to have travelers team up on transportation, it seems a no-brainer that we have to keep all of our options open.

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