Portland Aerial Tram

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Keeping with all the wild and wonderful things Portland has to offer, I made sure checking out the Portland Aerial Tram was on my bucket list.

It was well worth the jaunt and to be exposed to something indeed so Portland – for the mere $4 and change; it was a lot of fun.

The friendly tram conductor was eager to usher us in to the tram upon arrival.  I felt like I was going to Oz when I got into the tram.  This was going to be an experience.

There was no a lot of chit-chat between tram conductor, visitors and various hospital staff.  The hospital staff didn’t seem at all over it travelling up the hill to the Oregon Health & Science University.  Which was neat.  It gave us visitor’s permission to geek out appropriately.

The views were indeed spectacular.  As the tram climbed up the hill at a smooth pace, we could take in the beautiful Fall tree canopy with its gold, brows, red and yellow hues.  The houses looked like something out of Lilliput Lane from our view and the mist always present hung like mini clouds in nooks and crannies down below.

Here are some quick facts about the Portland Aerial Tram:

How high, how far, how fast?

The Tram cabins travel 3,300 linear feet from South Waterfront to Marquam Hill. Traveling at 22 miles per hour, the Tram cabins rise 500 feet during the four-minute trip. Each of the two cabins have a capacity of 79 people, including the operator. The Tram operates load-n-go. If you miss one, expect another in just a few minutes.

What else is in the area of the lower terminal?

The lower tram terminal is at the intersection of SW Moody & Gibbs–the most transportation-diverse intersection in the country. In addition to one of the nation’s only aerial commuter trams, you’ll see cars, buses, shuttles, a streetcar, a soaring pedestrian bridge, a shipyard, a cycle track, and the densest bike parking in America’s #1 biking city. Bike valet is offered free to the public at Portland Aerial Tram. It is sponsored by OHSU and operated by our partner Go By Bike.

South Waterfront is an emerging neighborhood with several dining options within walking distance of the lower terminal and more opening in 2014. Elizabeth Caruthers Park is one block south of the terminal and hosts a seasonal farmers market.

The Tram Tower is lit in a color schedule designed by the artist Anna Valentina Murch.

What can I expect at the upper terminal?

The upper deck has views of downtown Portland and the largest enclosed sky bridge in North America. As you exit the upper terminal, take a right to enter an outdoor patio with seating and views of the terminal, the surrounding region and, on a clear day, Mount Hood and Mount St Helens.

Summit Espresso is located a short distance away inside OHSU. Open 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays.

The upper terminal links to the 4T Trail–a self-guided tour by train, trail, tram and trolley. Much of Marquam Hill is a natural protected area with several trails that make for a great forested hike.

Why a Tram?

As many as 20,000 people a day visit Oregon Health & Science University’s main campus on Marquam Hill. OHSU is  Portland’s largest employer, medical destination, and home of several medical schools. Marquam Hill is also home to a residential neighborhood, nature trails, and hospitals owned by Shriners and Veterans Affairs. However, from downtown Portland, Marquam Hill is accessible by just two 2-lane roads. To keep Marquam Hill accessible, an ambitious solution was needed. After reviewing a few different options, the City and stakeholders determined a tram was the best possible solution.

The Portland Aerial Tram is part of Portland’s public transportation system and operates in coordination with TriMet and Portland Streetcar.

Who designed the Tram and cabins?

The Tram was designed by Angelil/Graham/Pfenniger/Scholl, based in Zurich, Switzerland, and Los Angeles. The custom-designed cabins were made by Gangloff Cabins of Bern, Switzerland.

Who owns and operates the Tram?

City of Portland owns the Tram. OHSU provided $40 million of the $57 million construction cost of the Tram. The City’s share of construction costs ($8.5 million) will be collected over time from rising property values in the district. In comparison, 1 mile of an urban 4 lane freeway costs between $60 million to $300 million.

OHSU oversees operation of the Tram, while the City is responsible for maintenance of the stations and tower and provides regulatory oversight.

Tram personnel perform continuous rider counts to determine the mode split–which then determines the share of operating costs split between OHSU and the City. Public fare is set and collected by the City and OHSU rides are paid by OHSU.

What are the Tram names?

The Trams are named Jean and Walt. The north cabin is named after Jean Richardson–the first female engineering graduate from Oregon State University. The south cabin is named after Walt Reynolds–the first African American to graduate from OHSU (University of Oregon Medical School at the time). The real life Jean and Walt rode their namesake cabins for a naming ceremony in 2007.

The station names come from the local Tualitin language. The lower station is named Chamanchal (“on the river”) and the upper station is named Chemeffu (“on the mountain”).

How safe is the Tram?

The Tram is exceptionally safe. Concerns about the seismic history of our region have been addressed in the Tram’s design. It meets the new, more rigorous Swiss standards for aerial tramways and, thus, exceeds U.S. seismic standards. The Tram is equipped with redundant (backup) drivers and generators in the event of power outages, and the entire system is under constant computer monitoring.

Will weather affect the Tram?

There will be times when high winds or ice may affect Tram operations. However, this type of Tram has proved itself very capable and trustworthy in the extreme winter conditions of the Swiss Alps. Tram staff constantly monitor weather conditions and will adjust operations as needed.

The Tram is the recommended route to and from Marquam Hill in the event of a snow storm or icy roads.

Will the Tram cabins ever get delayed in mid-route?

Tram operators know from experience that Tram cabins will occasionally be stopped in mid-trip for a few seconds or – in rare instances – for several minutes while Tram operators make routine adjustments. If there is a delay, your Tram operator will explain the reason and give updated information on how long the delay will last.

Next time you are in Portland, be sure to check out the Portland Aerial Tram.  It will give you a chuckle but at the same time appreciate how progressive Portland is when it comes to transportation in the city.

Doppelmayr USA, Inc.

Portland Aerial Tram

0698 SW Gibbs St.

Portland, OR 97239



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