The marvelous multicolored Milwaukie MAX

Lost amidst the controversy around the Milwaukie MAX project, has been a little operational detail that many of us transport geeks care passionately about…the color. The project has long been informally referred to as the Orange Line. While TriMet doesn’t use such terminology in its project literature, it appears as a big orange line on planning maps. Public statements from the agency have been a bit confusing.

During his interview with Portland Transport last spring, TriMet general manager Neil McFarlane had this to say:

First of all, it will operate as an extension of the Yellow Line, so they are not separate train lines, they are actually through-service lines. Some of the Yellow Lines may turn around or some of the Milwaukie lines may turn around, so bottom line is it really is a through route of the Yellow Line in terms of the way it will operate.

In terms of the color, no, we haven’t really decided. As we get closer to the opening, we do a whole series of outreach and service planning characteristics, and right now it just sort of helps us, I think, in terms of the description of talking about it as the Orange as opposed to Yellow which is a line in service, and so we get a little, you know, hopefully we clarify our terminology on that, but a lot more conversation to come on that.

Michael Anderson at PortlandAfoot apparently asked around within TriMet, and reports the following:

In April 2011, TriMet Rail Operations Planner John Griffiths wrote: “Milwaukie trains would be Orange Line trains and have an Orange Line designation in station signage.”

He further specified that the new line is expected to be largely continuous with the Yellow Line, but the train colors are expected to change their labels at Union Station (for southbound trains, from Yellow to Orange) and PSU (for northbound trains, from Orange to Yellow).

Officially, TriMet still refers to the project simply as “Portland-Milwaukie”. But check out the project logo on the Facebook page.

Lines changing color–a good idea?

Early in the planning process, I expressed a bit of skepticism about the prospect of an Orange Line, under the assumption that if it were colored orange; that would imply that it would not be interlined with either the Green or the Yellow–and that travelers seeking to go from Milwaukie to the Expo Center, for instance, would need to change trains downtown. While that scenario is apparently off the table (something I consider a good thing), the idea that Orange trains would become Yellow downtown (and vice-versa) was a bit of a surprise. It is known that Yellow Line trains coming into PSU nowadays frequently leave as Green line trains, and vice versa; however this is an operation detail which is transparent to the rider–passengers have to get off the train at PSU; there isn’t a continuous service, from the rider’s point of view, between Expo and Clackamas.

There are several Red Line trains coming from the airport which “turn blue” at Gateway, and proceed all the way to Hillsboro instead of turning around at Beaverton; but these are the exception and not the rule. Neither Blue nor Red trains change color downtown.

Having a train which “changes color” downtown seems to be a bit unusual–offhand, I can’t think of any place else where that is done. That said, commentor Erik Halstead noted the following in the comments:

Personally I hate the idea of using the same designation through downtown – I hate it even on buses. Especially since TriMet eliminated the split designation of interlined routes, so the 12 line is now the Barbur/Sandy. Bus stop signs in Tigard say “To Gresham” which is absolutely a disservice to the average new rider who has no interest in going clear across town; timetables are huge (and timepoints have had to be reduced) and the maps are useless.

Seattle does it right – routes don’t continue through downtown, but the timetables will indicate which route a particular trip will become as it passes through downtown. So they still interline bus trips, but the route “ends” in downtown. The bus simply drives onto a new route.

Getting back to MAX…frankly the Yellow/Green Line operation is good. Train enters downtown as a Yellow Line, and then it leaves as a Green Line – even though it’s the same train. The Blue Line should be split into two distinct routes – the Red Line should “end” in Portland, but certain trips/trains would continue as a Blue (or whatever color) Line train to Beaverton or Hillsboro.

So… what do readers think? Should Milwaukie trains be Orange or Yellow (or something else)? If you board an inbound train outside of downtown, and that line is through-routed through downtown to somewhere else, what should it say? Should eastbound Blue Line trains boarded in Beaverton advertise themselves as going to Gresham or to City Center? Do you think it would be confusing for trains to change color on a regular basis? (What about bus routes?)

Please note: This is not the thread to debate the merits of the Portland-Milwaukie project (or of light rail in general). We’ve had plenty of articles on those topics and there will be plenty more; attempts to divert the discussion from the intended subject will be moderated with extreme prejudice. :)

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