The Tunnel: Threat, or Menace?

Robertson Tunnel (photo by Wikipedia user EncMstr)The plan, you see, was to write a little story about taking the MAX through the tunnel. I started reading the marvelous MAX FAQs site, since I’m a former journalist and like to do at least some cursory research, albeit second hand.

Now that I think about it, that would not be me doing research. That would be me relentlessly stealing facts from MAX FAQs. Primary research would be me interviewing the tunnel or something (“yeah, but how do you FEEL when those trains enter you?”). I’m not going to interview a tunnel, even if I’ve got the time, and I don’t have the time so let’s get to the point here.

Wait, before we get to the point, I have one more thing to share about being a former journalist, and that would be the best piece of journalism advice I ever got. Namely, “if your mom says she loves you… check it out.” This piece of wisdom is always delivered with the wry, arched eyebrow of the hardened newspaper man, and it’s not something I would tell my therapy clients, I promise.

The point. The point, really is that the tunnel kind of scares the shit out of me. I tend not to think about it much. One of the MAX FAQs things that I did read was that there are blue lights every 750 feet in the tunnel. These blue lights, as far as I’m concerned, say one thing and one thing only – “that’s another 750 feet from being out of this fucker.”

Here’s another thing: The Washington Park platform is 260 feet underground. It’s apparently the deepest subway station in North America. I need this information like I need to know that my cavity is the biggest one my dentist has ever seen, or that the pile of cat barf I have to clean is the largest pile of cat barf in NE Portland. If you’re wondering what I’m going to be thinking when I go through the Washington Park train platform, wonder no more. It will be something like “oh god, oh god, I’m under 260 feet of rock and earth!”

I like technological marvels as much as the next guy, especially ones that are above-ground and don’t have to remind me every 750 feet that I’m in a tin can whipping along a couple of steel rails nearly a football-field underground. The Robertson Tunnel is a marvel, AND it was created by something called “Bore-Regard,” which is wry engineer humor that can be appreciated by even non-engineers.

Nothing against Robertson, but tomorrow morning when I go through the tunnel, I’m going to bury my head in my book as I always do, and I’m going to ignore those little blue lights, and I’m going to breathe deeply and thank the universe when I emerge on the other side.

Story by official TriMet Diaries contributor Dr. Jeff Guardalabene, who also blogs at drjeffblog.blogspot.com. Follow @doctor_jeff on Twitter!

And make sure to check out Dr. Jeff’s Holiday Fare project, which aims to collect and deliver transit tickets to those in need this holiday season!

Photo Credit: Robertson Tunnel photo by Wikipedia user EncMstr, used here under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

About Dr. Jeff

Dr. Jeff, in real life Dr. Jeff Guardalabene, is a Portland-area psychologist, who logs 300-plus miles on TriMet each week. He often live-tweets his commute to avoid intellectual stimulation. He lives with his wife and their five children and blogs about psychology issues at drjeffblog.blogspot.com. Follow @Doctor_Jeff on Twitter.
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4 Responses to The Tunnel: Threat, or Menace?

  1. Leslie says:

    I feel exactly the same way when BART travels under the bay on it’s way to SF, under ground, under water, in earthquake country…

  2. Paul Johnson says:

    The blue lights indicate the location of an emergency telephone (just as they do above ground). Most (all?) have a crossover to the other tunnel as well, and there’s a handicapped accessible escape platform the entire length of the tube. Also, the platform isn’t the deepest part of the tube, crossing the sylvan summit puts you at nearly 800 feet underground.

  3. MAX FAQs says:

    Yes, each blue light marks an emergency push-button telephone as well as a crosspassage to the other bore. The crosspassages are fairly large, you can fit about 80 people in one of them… in the early days of the west side & tunnel being in service, sweep trains used to have to check in the mornings to make sure no one was camping out in there. And the walkway is kind of wheelchair accessible – the smaller, collapsible-style wheelchairs will fit, but large scooters will not.

    You’re not alone in disliking the tunnel. As I understand it, before the tunnel officially opened an emergency drill was conducted to practice how medical/fire response personnel would get to a train in the tunnel & rescue passengers in case of an emergency situation. This was all very well and good until some of the volunteers who were playing “victims” in this scenario started realizing “Hey, I’m several hundred feet underground and over a mile from any exit” and had similar “oh god, oh god, why did I sign on to do this” reactions, panicked, and had to be removed. Passengers tend to be more on edge when stopped in the tunnel away from a platform than they are in other parts of the alignment, even if it’s just for something simple, like waiting on a red signal because the train in front of you hasn’t left the Washington Park platform yet. And I’ve known operators who quit rail training and went back to bus because they realized early on that they did not like being in the tunnel.

  4. adri says:

    Also, it’s too dang loud in that tunnel.
    whenever i ride the MAX through that tunnel i just prefer not to think about it or else it would just give me the heeby jeebies.
    my method is just turning up my music to my headphones so i can hear the music, tuck my nose in a book and zone everything else out, especially that fact that i am so far underground.

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