Friday, February 22, 2013

ATU 757 -TriMet Max: A Series of Disasters Waiting to Happen

TriMet workers say that open doors on traveling trains are just the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to delayed maintenance on what used to be a renowned transit system. According to Bruce Hansen, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, management has been alerted repeatedly to dangerous problems on the light rail system, yet has failed to take action.
"Our workers are afraid that a passenger, a member of the public or one of their co-workers is going to be injured or killed. It's that simple," explained Hansen.

Transit workers have provided a list of railcar doors that are seriously in need of an overhaul. "The mechanics are worried about the serious damage that could occur if one of these 90-lb. doors falls, especially if it happens when the train is moving," Hansen said. "Anyone can look at the Type 2 and 3 cars, and see that the doors are sagging. That's a clear sign of potential failure."
In addition to dangerous doors, workers report that wooden ties holding up the tracks have rotted out, resulting in "Go Slow" orders on portions of the MAX line. Railroads typically have automatic inspect-and-replace schedules for ties, but TriMet has failed to follow suit. "Those ‘Go Slow’ orders are a symptom of the overall deterioration of the existing system," Hansen said. "Go Slow" orders also have been issued due to cracked rails, he noted.
Beyond these mechanical safety hazards, the electronic system used to monitor and control all TriMet activity has a major "blind spot" in a congested area near Portland State University. Controllers, literally, cannot "see" vehicles within an area where streetcars and MAX trains intersect. “Given that it takes a train an entire block to stop,” states Hansen, “our controllers cross their fingers every time two vehicles enter this ‘black-out’ zone at the same time."
Safety issues are not just limited to aging infrastructure. TriMet’s new, high-tech Type 4 trains pose serious visibility issues to operators. Instead of mirrors, the new trains have sophisticated camera systems that are supposed to provide the operator with side and rear views; however, the cameras are easily “blinded” under many normal conditions. As Hansen explains, "All it takes is the rising or setting sun, platform lights or vehicle headlights to hit the camera’s lens. The result is a ‘white out’ that leaves the operator driving blind in that moment. Operators of the new trains equipped with cameras are terrified by the possibility they could hit or roll over someone they are not able to see when pulling in or out of the station."
Summing up these serious safety issues, Hansen has this to say: "The situation is life-threatening, and management is not listening to the workers' concerns. What upsets our folks is that TriMet has plenty of money to hire excess numbers of highly-paid managers, but no money to keep up with basic maintenance of the system. Management is willing to bleed the operations budget dry in order to expand a light rail system that its workers know is falling apart."
Hansen stated that the union intends to file an official complaint with the Federal Transit Administration next week.

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