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TriMet launches outside maintenance review

TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane has initiated an outside review of the agency’s light rail maintenance system, which includes MAX vehicles and trackway.

"We have an aging system and we're beginning to invest more heavily in its maintenance and rehabilitation," McFarlane told TriMet's board of directors at the Dec. 11 meeting in the Portland Building. "This outside review will help us invest the money wisely."

The review will be led by LTK Engineering Services, a national firm with light rail expertise, including having helped build the MAX system. The cost is not to exceed $245,000. The budget for the Maintenance of Way and Rail Equipment Maintenance departments is more than $36 million in the current fiscal year budget.

According to TriMet, McFarlane looked for outside help because there isn’t enough agency staff to do this comprehensive review and he wanted an outside perspective to capture industry best practices in how we’re maintaining our system. LTK will assess the state of repair of all vehicles and trackway, perform spot checks of selected equipment, and review maintenance records and service reliability data.

A full report is expected in six months, but McFarlane promised to provide monthly progress updates to the board. The final report will include recommendations on maintenance procedures, training programs, staffing levels, and systems repairs and upgrades.

The review comes after McFarlane reorganized the Operations Division in November and created a new Maintenance Division to provide greater focus and accountability on vehicle and rail system reliability.

“I am taking this action because I want to improve rail reliability issues and on-time performance. We need a better understanding of what is necessary to reach a more consistent, better level of service,” said McFarlane. “I believe our customers will soon begin to notice our progress.”

The oldest lines of MAX system were built nearly 30 years old. The system has grown over the years and now includes:

• 127 light rail vehicles that traveled 7.8 million miles inthe last fiscal year alone.

• 102 miles of overhead electrical system.

• 102 miles of total track.

• 144 switches

• 314 signals and hundreds of components in the communications system.

• 58 substations.

McFarlane told the board that with an aging system, much of the mid-life overhaul maintenance work comes due all at once. This is the case for the Type 2 and 3 light rail vehicles that were built around the same time, and now face a lot of heavy overhaul maintenance. The same is true with various parts of our trackway.

TriMet is already planning to make $2.5 million in track and switch improvements throughout the system over the next two years. In addition, in the next two and a half years, $585,000 in federal grant monies will be used to replace and improve signals, gate mechanisms and other electrical systems. Additional federal funds are set aside for TriMet in future years.