S upporting the Portland, Ore., metropolitan area with bus, light rail and commuter rail transit service since 1969, the TriMet transit system has been a mainstay in the community for more than half a century. Transporting up to 2 million riders to their destinations safely and on time each week, TriMet has been instrumental in connecting people to their homes, workplaces and recreational stops while easing traffic congestion and supporting environmental sustainability. So when outdated lighting jeopardized operations at TriMet’s internal and customer-facing facilities, the transit system reached out to Seattle-based Cochran Inc. to help oversee an LED upgrade to improve the facilities’ lighting quality and efficiency while significantly reducing energy and maintenance costs.
A system-wide opportunity
“Cochran won the on-call maintenance contract with TriMet approximately 5–6 years ago, and that’s where our relationship began,” said Greg Bambusch, project manager at Cochran’s Tigard, Ore., location. “This project originally started when TriMet was informed of a lighting code violation in one of their buildings and they called us in to fix it. As we worked through it, however, it turned into changing out all the lights throughout their entire network of 130 facilities plus bus stops and train stations.”
“In 2020, we underwent an annual inspection at our central bus yard and were informed that we needed to enhance the fasteners in our lighting fixtures to make them code-compliant,” said Karen Powell, TriMet’s director of facilities management. “In addition to creating dark spots in all of our spaces, our lights everywhere were difficult to access and maintain, requiring the scheduling of a bucket truck and the rearrangement of transportation operations.”
With so many older HID and fluorescent lamps in bus and rail garages, yards and parking lots where drivers received assignments and vehicles came for repairs, maintenance, engine rebuilding and body work, “we realized that it made no sense to fix those aging fixtures and knew that an upgrade to safe, high-quality and energy-efficient, new LED lighting technology would benefit our employees, passengers and community members alike,” Powell said.
Installed decades ago, “TriMet’s old lighting was at the end of its useful life,” Bambusch said. “While it had been regularly maintained by TriMet’s maintenance crew, the technology was showing its age—the fixtures were dirty, their plastic was yellowing and they were only putting out 60% of the light they should have been.
“Once we looked at the infrastructure and the lighting, it became clear that we’d be doing the same amount of work to take down, fix and reinstall the existing lighting as we would to take down the existing lighting and install brand new lighting that would last longer, shine brighter, require little to no maintenance and save energy,” he said. “It was a no-brainer.”
Product rebates available from the state served to sweeten the deal even further.
“The initial code violation was in TriMet’s bus maintenance facility, but after we showed their management team the attractive incentives that were available on the purchase of LED fixtures from the Energy Trust of Oregon, it made sense budget-wise to upgrade every facility,” said Cody Adams, director of Oregon electrical at Cochran.
Working with Seattle-based electrical distributor North Coast Electric, a Sonepar USA operating company, “we audited every facility light by light to determine what was installed and count each fixture,” Bambusch said. “We calculated the wattage of the installed base and proposed new lighting that aimed for a 70% reduction in energy usage from each fixture, depending on the space and application, because some customer-facing areas needed more light, which delivered less energy reduction. It was about taking into account what the customer wanted/needed and aligning that with the safety and energy-reduction aspects—those were the three goals that we tried to balance in each area we upgraded.”
Kicked off in September 2020, the first phase of the $2.4 million upgrade project covered 585,000 square feet of TriMet space and involved the installation of more than 10,000 LED retrofit strip kits, exterior area lights, wall packs, wide-body vapor-tights and linear high bays—the majority from LEDvance’s Sylvania General Lighting, Wilmington, Mass., and the remainder from Eaton’s Crouse-Hinds, Beachwood, Ohio. Enhanced connectivity for real-time demand/response load monitoring came from network-synced wireless controls from Dialight, Farmingdale, N.J., and Lutron, Coopersburg, Pa.
According to Bambusch, several spaces required unique lighting design.
“In the bus maintenance area, for example, we used wireless dimmable LED high bays so that TriMet could increase or decrease the lighting in different zones based on their mechanics’ needs, while in outdoor facilities such as open-air covered platforms, we used LED area lights on poles,” he said.
Four hundred feet underground, TriMet’s Robertson Tunnel is the deepest rail platform in the continental United States. And in it was 7 miles of lighting.
“We used heavy-duty custom industrial fixtures from Crouse-Hinds that feature a very wide, 60-foot spread of lighting (30 feet to each of the right and left) that can throw light straight down so that it won’t blind the train conductors,” Bambusch said.
A challenging upgrade
“At the height of the project, we had at least 20–30 crew members working on installations,” Bambusch said. “We did some prefab work at our Tigard shop and on the job site, and North Coast Electric delivered all of the fixtures to us unpacked with minimal cardboard, so there was no time wasted unpacking and disposing of garbage. Having lights completely wired up and ready to go in advance was especially helpful to us in the active Robertson Tunnel, where we had to stop work and back up against the walls so that trains could safely pass. In other spaces, we prefabbed cords and mounting hardware on lights to reduce our time by 10%–15%.”
“All of our work was done in active facilities, so our goal was to use our time as productively as possible in order to minimize the impact on customers,” Adams said.
While completed on time and on budget, Bambusch and Adams confirmed their team’s installation of tens of thousands of new lights in TriMet’s high-traffic, 24/7 facilities was just one of many challenges they faced throughout the project.
Among other issues, “we were working under very high ceilings, needed lifts everywhere, and had to be very resourceful to reach some difficult-to-access areas,” Adams said. “Other spaces had high-voltage (800V DC) power lines overhead powering the trains, so we had to coordinate above and under those.”
To work in the Robertson Tunnel, “we’d fill a train with light fixtures and bring the train into the tunnel; we also brought in portable bathrooms and had a train drop off and pick up our crew members each day or else they’d have to walk 2–3 miles to get in and out of there. Overall, it took about six months—two months of installation following four months of planning—to finish the tunnel project,” he said.
Completing an extensive upgrade during a global pandemic introduced other complications. With pandemic-era social distancing requirements in place, “our guys could only be next to each other for a few minutes at a time,” Adams said. “We had to have our own lunch areas and maintain 6 feet of spacing. Our safety director helped us through some unique challenges, such as locking/tagging out in hard-to-reach areas in the Robertson Tunnel or when heavy fixtures required the need for two crew members (one to hold the fixture while another one wired it) to maintain social distancing and operate within 10-minute windows to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID while working on a scissor lift 30–40 feet overhead.”
Outside of their facilities, a range of external forces put additional pressure on the project.
“Our region of the country experienced wildfires, resulting in horrendous air quality that curtailed many activities and operations,” Bambusch said. “During the course of the project, we also had an ice storm that shut down the city and left some of our workers without power for over a week, as well as a heat wave that topped out at 116°F, all in addition to the pandemic.”
The one saving grace?
“Ridership was down a little during the pandemic, as fewer people were commuting,” he said, “so that helped a little.”
A profile in teamwork
Despite the challenges, the project was a tremendous success and has ushered in a new day for TriMet’s customers and employees.
In darker spaces where many of TriMet’s bus and rail mechanics had previously resorted to wearing headlamps, lumen levels were increased by over 30% while still reducing energy use. The high-performing Sylvania LED lamps and fixtures installed reduced TriMet’s lighting energy consumption by 60% and will save an estimated 5.5 million kilowatt-hours of electricity and $360,000 in lighting energy costs annually. The project additionally secured an attractive $1.1 million in incentives from the Energy Trust of Oregon, which will further enhance the project’s return on investment.
“The safety and comfort of our employees is paramount, and the upgrade has delivered everything from improved productivity and safety to reduced energy consumption and better-quality lighting—all of which have truly transformed our space,” Powell said, who credits strong partnerships for the project’s ultimate success. “From Cochran and North Coast Electric’s creative lighting designs and facilitation of our rebates to the way they navigated complex procurement cycles and pandemic-era safety challenges against the pressures of our own 24/7 operations, this lighting upgrade was a profile in amazing teamwork.”
TriMet’s larger facilities were upgraded first, and the Cochran team is now focusing on more of the smaller facilities outside the downtown Portland area. As they continue to complete lighting upgrades throughout TriMet’s facilities over the next several years, the Cochran team couldn’t be prouder of what they’ve helped accomplish.
“The new lighting is so much brighter, inviting and efficient, and TriMet’s maintenance workers love it,” Bambusch said. “We’re also excited to have helped TriMet capitalize on a significant rebate, which boosted their bottom line and shortened the payback period on this project.”
“TriMet is the hub of transportation for the city of Portland and is used by a large population,” Adams said, as a public transit user himself. “We had a very collaborative team and it feels great to have upgraded TriMet’s facilities for their customers and employees and to have helped the whole community of Portland.”
“I love to drive around the area and see all of TriMet’s safe and modern new lighting, and I know that we played a role in helping to make life better in and around our city,” Bambusch said.