Portland MAX Red Line (Airport)

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Outbound MAX Red (Airport) Line at Parkrose/Sumner Transit Center. Photo by Peter Ehrlich, September 2009.


In the mid-1990's, Portland International Airport (known locally as PDX) began to experience the crunch of increased passenger service and the heavy road traffic this generated. The Port of Portland was also running out of land in which to build more parking lots. The Port, who operates PDX, then approached TriMet with what they hoped would be the solution to this problem: bringing MAX light rail to the airport.

TriMet had just experienced the last and narrow defeat of the North-South light Rail at the ballot box. The agency was leery of asking the voters to raise taxes again, given the last three votes on North-South Light Rail had resulted in defeats. The Port, City of Portland, and TriMet could only raise so much money on their own, and some sort of acceptable solution had to be found to make this line a reality.

Enter Bechtel Corporation of San Francisco. Bechtel agreed to pay for a large portion of the cost of the line in exchange for development rights on empty land that the Port of Portland owned near I-205 and the Airport. This was acceptable to all parties and in 1999, construction began on the first public-private transportation project in Oregon: Airport MAX.

The Airport MAX extension officially opened on September 10th, 2001, inaugurating the West Coast's first direct rail connection to an airport (LA's Green line could be considered the first with this honor, but uses a shuttle bus to accomplish this). Unfortunately, the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington occurred the next day, causing opening celebration canceled. Also on that second, and unfortunate day for Airport MAX, trains served as an effective means in evacuating the PDX terminal. Despite the tragic events and halting of airline travel, Airport MAX still managed to surprise those who projected ridership numbers.

This extension was the first line to branch off the east-west MAX line, and was named the Red Line in order to distinguish it from the main East-West line, which became the Blue Line. In 2003, the Red line was extended from its downtown Portland terminus west to Beaverton Transit Center. This was done to improve capacity between Gateway and Beaverton and gave Westside riders a direct connection to the airport.

The future of the Red Line may entail an extension to the north or the west. The Airport station was to one day be removed and replaced by one inside the terminal. However, this is now unlikely after the events in 2001. More likely is a branch up I-205 over the Glen Jackson Bridge into Vancouver, Washington.


The Red Line shares tracks with the Blue Line between Beaverton Transit Center and Gateway Transit Center. For these shared stations, please see the Blue Line section. For this tour, we'll start at Gateway Transit Center and ride north to the Airport.

At Gateway, red line trains traveling to the airport arrive on track 1, the eastbound track and platform (shared with the Blue Line). Red Line trains heading into Portland or Beaverton use the center track, known as track A. City Center-bound trains use Track A in order to access Gateway's center "Island" platform, allowing riders to directly switch to Blue Line trains traveling farther east. (only Blue Line trains use Track 2 at Gateway, and doors open onto both the westbound and center platforms)

South of Gateway, a switch takes Red Line trains onto a single-tracked loop bridge. Trains use this bridge to cross over the I-205/I-84 westbound ramp, settling onto the east shoulder of I-205. This is very tight curve which slows trains to under 15 MPH. This bridge was built to allow Red Line trains to continue into Portland without the operator having to switch cabs at Gateway.

Speed is increased once the train hits the straightaway just after this turn. Trains pass under the Mainline flyover and over I-84 on this single-tracked stretch. At Rocky Butte, the tracks branch and duck under I-205's northbound lanes. From here, trains run in the median of I-205, the northern part of an unused "transitway" built with I-205.

The first station is Parkrose/Sumner Transit Center at Sandy Blvd. This island platform station is connected to the bus transit center over I-205's northbound lanes by a unique "fish/bird" bridge. This structure is so named, as that from certain angles the bridge looks like a fish or a bird. Parkrose/Sumner was added to the Airport MAX line after the surrounding neighborhoods requested it. Also TriMet wisely shifted some bus services and built a park and ride lot here to relieve congestion at Gateway TC.

Continuing north, the Red Line zips across I-205's southbound lanes using a flyover bridge. Trains then descend into the Cascade station development, the area Bechtel was granted to develop in exchange for funding Airport MAX. So far, no major construction on this site has occurred, but streets and landscaping have been completed in anticipation of the new development.

Two stations will serve this development: Cascades and Mt. Hood Avenue. Cascades remains closed and unfinished, as nothing has been built around it yet. Mt. Hood Avenue was opened with Airport MAX due to its proximity to business parks and a hotel. There are some good views from this station of its namesake mountain. Portland Airport's south runway is less than a mile away, and you can watch planes taking off and landing here.

The tracks narrow down to a single track after Mt. Hood Avenue, then curve to follow Airport Way to the PDX terminal. Both single-tracked sections on the Red Line are designed to allow 10 minute headways if needed. The line ends at Airport station, a wedge-shaped "island" platform. The tracks divide here to allow two trains to be in the station at once. The main ticketing and airline check-in concourse is only a few steps and an escalator ride away from where trains drop passengers off. Ticket machines and information is located on the lower level inside the airport. TriMet customer relations workers are also around in busier times to assist those who may be unfamiliar with the system. Due to stricter federal regulations regarding airports with "train-to-plane" service, trains laying over are not to be left unattended. The rules inside the airport also apply on this platform and aboard the trains parked here: Luggage or items left unattended are subject to search and/or seizure.

Photo Gallery

Five Random Images

Image 18519

(21k, 500x375)
Photo by: Adam J. Benjamin
Location: Mt. Hood Avenue

Image 24928

(151k, 720x503)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Parkrose/Sumner Transit Center

Image 105715

(174k, 930x618)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Parkrose/Sumner Transit Center

Image 105721

(208k, 930x614)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Parkrose/Sumner Transit Center

Image 105759

(182k, 930x618)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Parkrose/Sumner Transit Center

More Images: 1-50 51-66

Photos By Location

Parkrose/Sumner Transit Center, Alderwood Rd. Overpass, Cascades, Mt. Hood Avenue, PDX Airport

Page Credits

By Adam J. Benjamin.

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