It’s now almost 2:30 a.m. at TriMet’s Ruby Junction Rail Operations Facility. After service ends at 1:36 a.m., more than half the fleet rests at this complex in Gresham, 15 miles east of Portland
Once the cars come in, though, they don’t sit idle. Each must be inspected and thoroughly cleaned before leaving in the morning. Tonight, the cleaning crews are tackling car 125, their last for the evening. Beside the storage track on which the car sits is a small golf cart filled with disinfectants, buckets, and mops. The crew of three starts at one end and sweeps toward the other, one man picking up all the loose trash, while another follows him with a mop.
“You find all kinds of things on here,” says one crewman. For a dirty car, it doesn’t look bad; the glass still gleams and there are only a few newspapers and loose trash scattered around the seats. Nothing particularly ominous. Do they ever get anything really foul? The guys working the front of the car exchange knowing glances. “Yeah, sure,” replies one. But before he can continue, the third crewman calls out from the back of the car. “Hey look!” This one does, back here….”
The crewman with a mop looks up from his work. “We have the world’s finest disinfectant. It can kill just about anything.”
The room lights are mostly off, the rail controllers’ faces illuminated by their computer screens, desk lamps, and the giant glowing curve of electronic displays that consume one wall of the TriMet Command Center. Located atop the Ruby Junction shops facility, this is the nerve center of the system, and one of the least-seen parts of MAX.
Slowly the system is awakening. Operators begin to file in, one-by-one, to log in and pick up their orders before settling into their cars for their shifts. On the great curving display is a schematic of the MAX system. Suddenly, a yellow box blinks into existence on the point representing Ruby Junction. The clock on the wall says 3:34 a.m. The first train of the day is entering the system.
As dawn approaches, the rail controllers respond to a growing number of radio calls, issuing train orders to the various cars as they go on duty. From Ruby Junction and Elmonica, still more blinking boxes appear on the schematic, each representing trains and labeled with their respective train numbers. THey are heading toward each other, and toward downtown. Soon the map is covered with them. The day has begun.