Ask TriMet: How Do Service Alerts Get Posted?

Dec 4, 2019

“Where’s my train?!”

If there is anything more frustrating than a delayed train or bus, it’s being in the dark about it — how long you should expect to wait and what your options are.

We put a lot of effort into making sure riders have access to timely and accurate service alerts. But did you ever wonder how information about a delay flows from the incident itself to your inbox, phone or Twitter feed?

It’s a very human process — no Service Alert Bot 3000 here. Here’s how it works, using a real example of a recent MAX Yellow Line disruption.

11:07 a.m.

A car makes an illegal left turn at Interstate and N Russell Street and is struck by MAX Yellow Line train. The operator radios into Rail Control, reporting the situation.

11:08 a.m.

The rail controller in the Operations Command Center (also known as the OCC) at our Center Street Operations Headquarters goes through safety checks with the operator: Are there any injuries*? Have you disconnected the train from the overhead electric wire that powers the train?

The controller keeps the operator on the line and continues to assess the situation. Emergency services are contacted. A rail supervisor promptly makes their way to the site of the incident.

Take a look inside our Operations Command Center.

11:09 a.m.

Among the people in the OCC is a Service Information Coordinator (During less busy times — such as early mornings and late nights — we have staff on-call to post alerts). The Coordinator can see the big board of real-time train locations and listen in to the radio call between the operator and the controller.

The threshold for posting alerts is a 10-minute delay during rush hour and about 15 minutes other times — delays shorter than this are often resolved before the alerts can be posted. It’s clear that MAX colliding with a car will result in significant delays, so the Service Information Coordinator springs into action.

The Coordinator already has our service alert dashboard up on their dedicated computer. The dashboard is a simple web-based app that lets us quickly post alerts on our website, the arrival screens on our system and the TriMet Alerts Twitter feed, and to send emails and text messages to our Service Alerts email lists.

Are you signed up for Service Alerts emails or texts?

This app gives us a lot of control over where and how to post alerts — we can put an alert on a single arrival screen on one platform or post a red alert banner on our website, and everything in between.

The Coordinator writes the alert, coordinating with the other staff in the OCC for information on how long delays will be and how long lines will be impacted.

11:13 a.m.

The Coordinator hits publish and the alert is live on Twitter,, and on arrival screens along the MAX Yellow Line. An email arrives in the inbox or on the phone of people who’ve signed up for Yellow Line alerts.

The Coordinator continues to monitor the situation. Using the Service Alerts system, they provide updates on details like the shuttle bus pick-up and drop-off locations, if any additional lines will be delayed, and how long delays are expected to last. Some alerts are straightforward. Others can be complicated and require frequent updates.

11:20 a.m.

Shuttle buses, dispatched from Rose Quarter Transit Center, begin to pick up passengers.

11:42 a.m.

A tow truck is on-scene and the car is removed from the tracks.

12:01 p.m.

Our Rail Equipment Maintenance team is on-site and inspects the MAX train, rails, switches and overhead wires. We need to make sure the train is capable of being safely moved and there is no damage to our system. If, for example, a rail had broken, we’d need to make repairs before allowing trains to resume service.

12:09 p.m.

The inspection is complete and the “ok” is given to move the damaged train.

12:11 p.m.

Trains begin to move through the affected stretch of track. The Coordinator begins to update the alert to say service has resumed, but to expect delays until 1 p.m.
MAX service can’t just be “turned back on” — it takes a while for trains to catch up to where they need to be. Our rail controllers have a playbook of ways they can bring service back to normal: they can bring in unused trains from our rail yards (if any are available), run MAX trains with one passenger car instead of the usual two, or turn trains around (if you’ve ever been asked to exit a train before your stop, this might have been what was happening). Trains can also “turn and burn,” which means they skip their scheduled break at the end of a line.

12:11 p.m.

The updated alert is sent out by email, text and Twitter. The alert will remain up on and on arrival screens until 1 p.m. when it will automatically come down.

1:00 p.m.

Service is back to normal.
We’re always working to keep you informed of any service disruptions, and there are many ways to keep updated. Sign up for service alerts via e-mail and text, or follow us on Twitter.

*Note: While any collision involving a MAX train has the potential to be serious, we are grateful this one wasn’t as bad as it first appeared. One person went to the hospital, but police said it was due to a pre-existing medical condition. The two other people who were in the car were not hurt. Nobody on MAX was hurt.

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