March 6, 2009 Volume 110 Number 5

TriMet’s new Westside Express Service is a unionized operation

By DON McINTOSH, Associate Editor

West-side Portland commuters got a new option Feb. 2, thanks to TriMet and a mostly-union skilled workforce.

The new Westside Express Service (WES) commuter train leaves every 30 minutes during morning and evening rush hours. The service uses four passenger train cars that make 16 weekday runs each way between Beaverton Transit Center and Wilsonville, with stops at Washington Square, Tigard, and Tualatin. There are also three park-and-ride lots along the route. Travel time is 27 minutes for the entire 14.7 mile stretch. For riders, it beats sitting in traffic on Highway 217 and I-5.

WES is Oregon’s first modern commuter rail line and one of the few suburb-to-suburb commuter rail projects in the country. Before car was king, there was passenger train service along the same route, but that ended in 1933. In recent years, the line has been owned by Portland & Western Railroad and used for freight. WES operates on the same tracks as the freight trains, but the company has a contractual obligation to keep freight trains out of the way during WES runs, and about a mile of side tracks have been built at various points to prevent delays, including at each of the stations. 

To upgrade the tracks for passenger use, Tri-Met hired Stacy & Witbeck as the general contractor on the project, which broke ground in October 2006. Stacy & Witbeck employed 25 union-signatory subcontractors and 32 nonunion subcontractors. Union crews flash-welded rails; drilled, pumped and cut concrete; built station platforms; installed utilities; and put up fencing. Ampere Electric and Team Electric did electrical work. Tice Electric did traffic signals. Brundage-Bone performed the concrete pumping; Progressive Mechanical, Inc. did plumbing.

The completed trains are dispatched and operated by Portland & Western using eight engineers and conductors who are represented by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (a division of the Teamsters). And the trains are maintained by TriMet, which employs six mechanics who are members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757. ATU members also clean the stations and do the landscaping at the WES Maintenance Facility in Wilsonville.

Construction costs for track, stations, and signals were estimated at $112 million, while the trains were an additional $26 million. The trains were made by Colorado Railcar Manufacturing, the only U.S. company that made self-propelled trains of this kind. The company ran into financial trouble and had to be taken over by TriMet to finish work on the trains, after which it closed its doors. About half the funding for the project came from the Federal Transit Administration.

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