Westside Express Rail Service opens in Portland

September 4, 2009 8 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

While many of the First Coast's residents continue to suffer from the worst commute times in the state, Portland continues to expand its mass transit options with the opening of the suburban Westside Express Service commuter rail line.

About the Westside Express Service

Photo by Thomas Le Ngo

Westside Express Service (WES) is a 14.7-mile commuter rail line between Beaverton and Wilsonville, Oregon, in the Portland metropolitan area, mostly following busy Oregon Highway 217 and Interstate 5. The diesel-powered passenger rail service, delayed several times, opened in February 2009 on upgraded existing freight rail tracks operated by the Portland & Western Railroad (P&W). The service is managed and funded by TriMet, but the railcars are operated by P&W staff. In planning since the mid-1990s, the line has five stations: two in Beaverton, one in Tigard, one in Tualatin, and one in Wilsonville.

It took thirteen years and $166 million to get WES operational.

The WES line operates entirely in the suburbs of Portland.  It is an example of introducing rail transit in areas of low density.  The WES corridor is represented by the purple line in this TriMet rail system map.


Photo by Thomas Le Ngo

Planning for WES began in 1996 when Washington County, the cities of Beaverton, Tigard, Tualatin, Wilsonville and Sherwood, as well as government transportation agencies worked to establish passenger rail service between Beaverton and Wilsonville on the existing P&W line. After years of delays due to lack of funding, the line received an endorsement of the Federal Transit Administration, resulting in the funding of approximately 50 percent of the line's capital costs. Track work began October 23, 2006, in Wilsonville, and a ceremonial "ground-breaking" was held two days later in Tigard, although the project had already started and no dirt was moved.

During planning and construction, the project was called the Washington County Commuter Rail, or alternately the Wilsonville to Beaverton Commuter Rail since much of Wilsonville is in Clackamas County. TriMet held a naming contest to choose a name for the new line, and in November 2007 it announced WES (Westside Express Service) as the winner. By December of that year, construction on the rail line was 75 percent complete and included five new bridges and two rehabilitated bridges, and improvements to 14 miles of track and 14 road crossings. A distinctive feature of the line is the gauntlet track sections installed at the Hall-Nimbus, Tigard and Tualatin stations. The feature allows P&W freight trains to swing clear of the high-level platforms at the stops, so that wider cars do not strike them.

In June 2008, the line was more than 90 percent complete, with all the track in place. The four Colorado Railcar Diesel multiple unit (DMU) cars ordered for the line then arrived; a total of three powered DMU cars and one non-powered "trailer car" were tested on the route. A ceremonial inaugural run for dignitaries and journalists took place on January 22, and public preview rides on January 30, ahead of a February 2, 2009, public opening.

Photo by Thomas Le Ngo

Delays and problems with Colorado Railcar

Photo by Thomas Le Ngo

Originally scheduled to open in September 2008, opening was delayed several times and eventually to February 2009 due to technical and other difficulties, most notably the failure of Colorado Railcar (CR). TriMet lost $3 million from the delays and from its financial support of CR, which included paying CR's suppliers and providing "rail engineering expertise and on-site technical assistance." They provided bailout funds to CR, paying rent, phone, and power bills, and ultimately taking control of the failing company long enough to take delivery of its vehicles.

Photo by Thomas Le Ngo


Photo by Thomas Le Ngo

WES trains run every 30 minutes between Wilsonville and Beaverton during morning and afternoon rush hours. The scheduled one-way travel time is 27 minutes. Travel on WES requires a TriMet All-Zone fare—in the form of a monthly pass, bus transfer receipt, validated ticket or payment to a ticket vending machine at a WES station—or a C-TRAN Express fare.[16] P&W, which continues to run freight trains on the line, operates the commuter trains, and TriMet maintains them. Daily ridership averaged 1,180 in June 2009, but TriMet is hoping to see it grow to about 2,400 by the end of the first year of operation.

Photo by Thomas Le Ngo

Jacksonville Connection

The WES maintenance facility. Wikipedia image

Portland's Westside Express Service is what JTA has envisioned for the proposed North commuter rail corridor. If implemented, this rail line would use the city owned S-Line corridor to connect downtown with Durkeeville, Shands Jacksonville, Springfield, Metro North, Jacksonville Zoo, River City Marketplace and Jacksonville International Airport.

An Affordable Conclusion

Photo by Thomas Le Ngo

Jacksonville projects Capital Costs

$148 million - I-95/I-10 Interchange

$73.6 million per mile - JTA Skyway Express (2.5 miles/$184 million)

$47.3 million per mile - First Coast Outer Beltway (46.5 miles/$2.2 billion)

$45 million - Atlantic-Kernan Overpass

$40.5 million per mile - Florida 9B Phase 1 "SR 9A to US 1" (4.2 miles/$170 million)

$80.5 million - JTB/9A Interchange

$45 million - I-95/9A/I-295 Interchange

$119 million - I-295 at Collins Road Interchange and Collector Road

Other cities Transit projects Capital Costs

$29.5 million per mile - Cleveland Euclid bus rapid transit corridor (5.7 miles/$168 million)

$25.0 million per mile - Los Angeles Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit (14 miles/$350 million)

$11.3 million per mile - Portland Westside Express Service (14.7/$166 million)

At $11.3 million per mile, Portland's WES can be added to the list of real life examples that prove rail systems can be affordable.

Article by Ennis Davis

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westside_Express_Service