Light Rail to Forest Grove?

Now that I’m serving on MPAC, I’m making an effort to get out to various corners of the region and meet with local officials to get a better perspective on regional issues through a local lens.

I started with a trek out to Forest Grove, where Richard Kidd, who also chairs MPAC this year, is mayor. Forest Grove is as far west as our region goes, all the way to the end of the MAX Blue Line, then 20 minutes more on the #57.

When the West Side light rail was planned, the plans extended all the way to Forest Grove, but the funding ran out at Hillsboro. Mayor Kidd would like to change that.

He has a plan to do LRT from Hillsboro to Forest Grove on the cheap. Here’s how it would work:

  • Use existing ODOT rail right-of-way that parallels the highway from Hillsboro to Forest Grove. It currently only runs one freight train per week. He proposes that this freight service still be allowed to run on the LRT track.
  • Take old mothballed MAX trains (TriMet apparently has some) and refurbish them, replacing the current power plant with a diesel-electric one (the new line would then not need to be electrified, a further savings).

Of course the change in vehicle type would mean a transfer at Hillsboro.

What do you think?


18 Responses to Light Rail to Forest Grove?

  1. Peter W
    February 28, 2006 at 7:45 am Link

    It would be interesting to know the details about the cost savings and how long a transfer would take. With 20,000 people in Forest Grove and 10,000 in Cornelius what would the cost/person be?

    Would this be a better system than just transfering to the #57? And just how many unused trains does Trimet have?

    I can think of two possible advantages: 1) more bike + people capacity on a max train and 2) more middle class people may take the train than would take the bus (just a guess).

    Another advantage would be that this would probably help focus denser development and redevelopment around the new LRT stations in Forest Grove. Cornelius would benefit by doing that as well, although the current city government there is probably more interested in using city money to support things like a Walmart rather than new LRT stations.

    The advantage of spending the extra money to use normal max trains running all the way to Forest Grove is 1) easier+cheaper maintanence for all-electric trains and 2) more people willing to ride to Forest Grove for fun (and probably shopping there) and 3) Pacific U. won’t have to relocate other parts of the U. to places with LRT like Hillsboro. I wonder what the lost value of the College of Health Professions moving to Hillsboro was for Forest Grove?

  2. Chris Smith
    February 28, 2006 at 8:16 am Link

    Mayor Kidd did not go into a lot of detail (it was one topic of many about Forest Grove that we discussed), but there is no question a major motivation was the opportunity to help develop his downtown. And yes, he’s feeling the pain from the University relocating its professional schools.

  3. Bob R.
    February 28, 2006 at 9:36 am Link

    What Mayor Kidd is really proposing (at least initially) is diesel-powered commuter rail.

    He’d be better off acquiring a used diesel engine and a couple of passenger cars (of which many, many are available) than trying to retrofit a MAX LRV. (In fact, I’m unaware of any modern LRV being converted internally for a new power system. He’d probably have to tow a large generator.)

    Or he may want to investigate purchasing new DMUs (diesel multiple unit – a self-propelled commuter rail passenger car) as an add-on to the Washington County Commuter Rail project. A forest grove line like the one proposed would essentially operate just like commuter rail, so perhaps maintenance staff and parts could be shared.

    My advice to Forest Grove would be to plan, plan, plan rather than build. Create a master plan for a rail corridor and plan zoning and densities around that corridor. Buy as much right of way as is possible, set aside areas for future stations, construction staging, etc.

    A decade or more from now, when everything is in place, construction will go relatively smoothly and there will be more demand for the system due to development already channelled along that corridor.

    – Bob R.

  4. jim karlock
    February 28, 2006 at 9:53 am Link

    Of course you could run those diesel powered cars anywhere on the MAX line.

    just a comment.

  5. Peter W
    February 28, 2006 at 9:55 am Link

    I wonder if these diesel trains could be the first bio-diesel trains in the country. That would be cool.

    One possible advantage of using a different train is that they could plan on larger trains (if they thought that’d be useful). I think the length of the MAX trains are constrained by the short 200 ft. blocks in Portland. I’m not sure what size the blocks are in Forest Grove or what other constraints there will be, but perhaps if a different train system is being used it could possibly be larger for more room for bikes and people. On the other hand, even if everyone stopped driving and took the train, would there be enough people to require larger ones?

  6. Chris Smith
    February 28, 2006 at 11:01 am Link

    The mayor mentioned that there is a drop-in diesel-electric power plan that can replace the current drive system in the same form factor.

    Bio-diesel is an interesting twist.

  7. Adron
    February 28, 2006 at 11:13 am Link

    I’d love to take a train to Forrest Grove.

    But technically the money isn’t there. There is no political reason to build something that far, and there is definately no business case to build one that far. The density of people is just not available.

    I mean seriously, it would be a 1 1/2 hour trip from downtown PDX to Forrest Grove. That is far outside of a reasonable commute time. Currently the most reasonable and intelligent situation is exactly what Tri-Met is doing, running the #57 out there.

    Now if someone could convince some multi-billion dollar investment along that corridor, then things would change. But there lies a problem, you’ve effectively encouraged sprawl where there is no need to incur sprawl.

    A better effort would be to increase the feeder line capabilities of the current MAX with mainline streetcar type feeder corridors. For instance, 185th in Hillsboro could use a streetcar to run thru all of the businesses there. It would be very userful and one could eliminate more nasty polluting bus routes.

  8. torridjoe
    February 28, 2006 at 2:10 pm Link

    Adron, according to Metro the lion’s share of employment growth will be exactly in the area we’re discussing: Beaverton to Hillsboro to Forest Grove and Cornelius. The problem is that there is little non-resource land available out there (as opposed to active farmland, which is last-resort for inclusion in the UGB) to bring into the development circle.

    Within a decade, I don’t have any doubt that a rail extension in that area would have plenty of riders.

  9. Jon
    February 28, 2006 at 2:19 pm Link

    Is there anyway they could use the existing single track, put up some *simple* electrification (like wood telephone poles and basic overhead wire) and run the existing MAX trains out to Forest Grove and have the freight trains use the tracks at night like on the San Diego Trolley?

    For such a short distance and especially when MAX already goes as far out as Hillsboro I think it makes sense to just continue light rail out to F.G instead of using another mode which would likely need its own maintainance facility and require another transfer for passengers.

    How many stations would we possibly be looking at?

    From what I understand (and also from looking at satelite photos of the ROW) there is quite a bit of new development along the route already and much of it laid out in a traditional grid pattern with sidewalks.

  10. Lance Lindahl
    February 28, 2006 at 2:21 pm Link

    I will vote to extend MAX to Forest Grove just as soon as the rest of the region lives up to its promise to bring rail service to inner Southeast Portland. Service to Milwaukie and Oregon City keeps being pushed to the back of the line.

    The time will come for MAX to be extended to Forest Grove, but there are more pressing matters to address first.

  11. Peter W
    February 28, 2006 at 9:11 pm Link

    On the subject of MAX planning, I was at the Tanasbourne library today and while looking for books on northwest street car history, I came across some documents about west side MAX (mainly studies of impact — environment impact, traffic impact, etc. and planning docs). In case anyone else ever wants to find those, just look for the “NorthWest history” section of the library, or search WILInet ( for “light rail”.

    I didn’t read them but they look interesting and may be useful for anyone thinking about west side light rail.

  12. Ray Whitford
    February 28, 2006 at 10:57 pm Link

    I lived in Hillsboro back in the 1990 during the West Side MAX construction. Extension to FG was, as mentioned, a future endeavor. A temporary line could be the bio-diesel phase, but long term, I would hope twenty years from now there would be electric overhead wires.

    During my input to the Springwater Concept Plan, extension of LRT from Gresham to Springwater was my suggestion. It wasn’t included in the plans (streetcar was mentioned instead).

    LRT to Milwaukie/OC; to Tigard/Sherwood; and hopefully to Vancouver before we extend LRT to FG or to Springwater or Troutdale.

    Ray Whitford

  13. Shaun
    June 6, 2008 at 11:36 pm Link

    Any updates? I live in Cornelius and would love the max to come out this way, forget the bus.

  14. jaswarn
    August 31, 2010 at 5:49 pm Link

    TriMet to Forest Grove is a perfect idea. There is alot of people waiting for that.

  15. Jason Barbour
    September 1, 2010 at 11:17 am Link

    TriMet to Forest Grove is a perfect idea.
    TriMet already serves Forest Grove via bus line 57-TV Highway (as mentioned in the original post), and (as of this writing) with some of the few newest buses in the TriMet fleet. I’ve been out there on it before myself.

    In my personal opinion, there should be no psychological difference between riding a bus and riding a light rail vehicle. Once when I was on a full bus, the driver encouraged standees to move to the elevated section in the back of the bus, followed by a comment of something like if anyone hadn’t showered recently and/or seemed threatening, she wouldn’t have let them on the bus in the first place.

  16. EngineerScotty
    September 1, 2010 at 1:02 pm Link

    Ignoring the issue that the 57 requires a transfer to get downtown… has anyone done any study on Forest Grove residents to determine if there is a substantial population of “will ride the train, won’t ride the bus” types?

    Not suggesting they be catered to–a MAX extension to Cornelius and FG is low on Metro’s priority list, despite the existence of a nice convenient ROW that could be repurposed. Bit it would be interesting to find out…

  17. Bryan B.
    September 29, 2016 at 7:02 pm Link

    How about get the developers that will eventually buy up and develop land in Cornelius and Forest Grove to foot the bill? Kinda like what happened with SoCal freeways but the developer fitting the bill rather than the taxpayer. Of course, profit sharing for this portion of the line with said developers could be an option, like developers are doing in Northern VA with express lanes; but the sharing should be limited to an initial period to turn the line back to the taxpayers eventually.

  18. Garlynn Woodsong
    February 28, 2018 at 12:41 pm Link

    I seem to recall that it only costs ~$200,000/mile to electrify a ROW that already exists. This doesn’t include track work, if the tracks also are below standard and need to be improved, but that would arguable have to happen anyways.

    Given these costs, the lion’s share of the cost of extending LRT from Hillsboro to Forest Grove would be in stations, crossings, various accessory improvements (TrIMet likes to upgrade streets with new cross-sections when LRT is installed), and rolling stock.

    I have always thought that it was a mistake to not bring LRT all the way to Forest Grove, and I still feel that way. Forest Grove has ample land within the UGB to support growth without an expansion; it already has some destinations within walking distance of a potential LRT station downtown; and sufficient new housing could be built within a walking distance of a new station to make the service worthwhile.

    Question is, as Metro heads into the new RTP cycle, can LRT to Forest Grove be added to the Tier 1 project list as low-hanging fruit to create more low-VMT households in the region?

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