Tidying MAX tracks with The Beast

Aug 23, 2023

TriMet’s Maintenance of Way (MOW) department manages the MAX light rail system’s overhead electric wires, signals, substations (which convert electricity from the public supply to power trains) and tracks.

Since September 2022, MOW crews have saved a lot of time clearing ballast—coarse gravel that forms in the bed of our light rail track—and debris from the tracks by using a vacuum truck. It’s impressive to watch as it collects materials quickly and efficiently, and it helps to keep our MAX tracks clean.

Here’s a summary of how the vacuum truck works and why we use it:

Vacuum truck

How does it work?

It vacuums ballast, water and other materials from MAX tracks. It takes two trained crew members to operate it. One person operates the movement of the truck from the rear platform while another person controls the vacuum hose. 

Fun fact: It’s called a “vacuum truck,” but our MOW crews also call it “The Beast” and “The Guzzler.”

Why does TriMet remove ballast from tracks?

Our focus is to keep MAX trains running smoothly. We do this by maintaining a clean right of way, which includes removing dirty, old ballast that gets saturated with oil, litter and other materials. Then, we dump and spread new, clean ballast to support the rail ties, which creates a smoother ride on MAX.


How does it get onto the MAX system? 

The truck drives from our Ruby Junction rail facility to a rail crossing nearest to the work area. It has a small set of wheels that retract to lift the truck onto the rails and allow it to move along the track.

Vacuum truck showing operator
Vacuum truck showing the pipe

Does it actually save time?

Yes! Previously, it was a very labor-intensive job requiring multiple people to manually remove materials from the track. Now, it takes far fewer workers in a fraction of the time previously spent. 

It’s called The Beast for a reason: It removes about 13,000 pounds of material per eight-hour shift!

Who built it?

It’s a custom-made Kenworth truck chassis that was developed by Portland-based Nelson Trucking in conjunction with the Hi-Vac Corporation.

Are you interested in operating this magnificent machine?

Visit trimet.org/careers to check out our openings in the MOW department!

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