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When a MAX car is worn out -- do you scrap it, or do something else with it? City opting for second option

DAVID F. ASHTON - Competition exhibits are taped up on the sides of old rail coaches for public display - to be voted on by people attending the event. Instead of junking its oldest trains, TriMet worked with Portland State University's Center for Public Interest Design to set up a competition envisioning how its oldest MAX light rail cars might be used when retired in a few years. "MAX" is an acronym for "Metro Area Express". The recycled trains will likely be parked near Lloyd Center at some point in the future.

A brainstorming session called the "2020 Re-purposing Light Rail Cars Design Competition" was held in Inner Southeast Portland's Oregon Rail Heritage Center, just east of OMSI, on August 25. A limited number of people were invited – on a first-come, first-served basis – to view the designs, and vote on their favorites.

The organizers gave little coaching or input to the participants, other than to offer suggestions that the old trains might be used to help address issues such as homelessness, climate change, racial inequality, or other social, environmental, or public health issues – Including the COVID-19 pandemic, which hopefully will be history by then.

The competition grew out of an idea by TriMet General Manager Doug Kelsey to find a way to re-purpose the Type 1 light rail vehicles while addressing a public need, and if successful, keeping the trains from becoming scrap. "Wouldn't it be amazing to find a new way to re-use these old trains that advanced the legacy of transit – connecting people with services, with opportunities, with the community we so value?" he asked.

The original 26 "Type 1" trains in the MAX system, each with 680 sq. ft. of interior space, have now been in service for nearly 34 years. However, because of stairs at every door, these trains must be paired with more modern units, providing ADA accessibility. "We will begin to retire these vehicles in 2022, as we begin bringing in the next generation of light rail vehicles," Kelsey revealed.

When the votes were tallied that evening, the first place prize went to the concept called "MAX Village". To see the layout suggested by this and the other entries, visit the webpage –

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