Portland Streetcar

From nycsubway.org


Portland Streetcar no. 007 inbound at SW 5th/Montgomery. Photo by Peter Ehrlich, September 2009.


Portland inaugurated the new Portland Streetcar line on July 20th, 2001, making Portland the first city to build a modern streetcar system with modern vehicles in North America. Streetcars run almost entirely along paved track on city streets. The majority of the route runs along pairs of one-way streets, separated by one or sometimes two city blocks.

The system connects RiverPlace Marina with Northwest Portland. It is intended to circulate people between sections of Portland's close-in central neighborhoods and increase development along the "linear neighborhood", as the 6 mile streetcar line has been called.

The system is owned and operated by the City of Portland through the oversight of the non-profit Portland Streetcar Company. Trains are operated by MAX light rail operators contracted to the streetcar system from TriMet, Portland's regional transportation authority.


Portland once was known for it's extensive and unique streetcar system. At one time, it was one of the largest in the United States. By 1950, the last city streetcar was discontinued, with the last interurban train heading back to the car barns for good in 1959. Gasoline buses took over many of the old routes, but many people still remembered what the old system was like. By the 1970's, efforts eventually culminated in the MAX line and it's small-scale Vintage Trolley replicas.

Portland's city plan of 1972 called for a "circulator" system to connect close-in central city neighborhoods. It took nearly 30 years to realize this goal.

In 1990, the first Citizen's Committee was formed to look at building the Portland Streetcar. Efforts culminated in the foundation of the Portland Streetcar Company in 1995. Construction began in 1999 on the first 4.4 mile section between Northwest Portland and Portland State University. Revenue service began on July 20th, 2001, after three months of testing.

Projected ridership levels were set at 3,000 boardings per day. A month after opening, ridership statistics were reported at over 6,000 daily boardings, even on days with less frequent service. Portland Vintage Trolleys running along the line on Sundays have also become quite popular.

On March 11, 2005, the RiverPlace extension opened, extending service from PSU 0.6 mile to the Willamette Riverfront. Another 0.6 mile extension is currently under construction to SW Gibbs Street in the new South Waterfront neighborhood.


Streetcar operations and construction are funded by fares, an annual contribution from TriMet, a special taxation zone along the route, car and station sponsorship, and parking meter revenues. The special taxation district was created by business owners along the route whom actually volunteered and petitioned to be taxed.

Although no federal funds were directly used in past Portland Streetcar projects, future projects may be able to obtain direct federal funding. There are efforts in the US Congress to create federal matching fund programs for small-scale rail systems like the Portland Streetcar. Not surprisingly, this legislation is being championed by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Portland-area congressman and an enthusiastic streetcar supporter.


The Portland Streetcar uses the TriMet fare zone system. Since it runs mostly inside TriMet's Fareless Square zone, rides are free within that area. If traveling outside of Fareless Square, or boarding in Northwest Portland past NW Irving Street, the fare is the same as a TriMet 1 or 2 zone ticket. Streetcar tickets, TriMet MAX tickets and bus transfer slips are all mutually recognized as fare on both systems.

Plans to make the Portland Streetcar free along its entire route were opposed by Northwest Portlanders. Residents did not want to see Northwest Portland become a Park-and-Ride lot for commuters wishing to avoid paying for parking downtown.

Fares are purchased on board the streetcars, at a centrally located automated ticket machine. Portland Streetcars, like MAX, uses the honor system, with random sweeps by TriMet fare inspectors to enforce payment. Failure to produce proof of fare may result in fines and/or exclusion form the Portland Streetcar and TriMet system.

Future Plans

Expansion of the system is on the City of Portland's agenda. There are currently three extension projects, one of which is currently under construction.

Construction has begun on the Gibbs Extension, another 0.6 mile extension southward. This line will connect the South Waterfront, an emerging high-rise residential and research area, with the rest of the system. The only station that will open will be at station at the Gibbs Street Terminal. The Portland Aerial Tram, also under construction, will connect the streetcar terminal to Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) on Marquam Hill (aka "Pill Hill"). Services on both the new extension and aerial tram are to begin sometime in 2006.

In 2003, a Portland Streetcar Steering Committee was formed to evaluate taking the system across the Willamette River to the Eastside. The proposed extension, with the current system, would form a ring line around the city center, connecting Union Station, the Rose Quarter, the Lloyd District, and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). This route is referred to as a Ringstrasse, named after similar systems in Germany.

Another candidate for a future streetcar extension is the current route of the Willamette Shore Trolley. Formerly Southern Pacific's Red Electric interurban line, this route would again connect Portland to Lake Oswego. The Oregon Electric Railway Historical Society currently runs hourly service along these tracks using vintage vehicles. TriMet's general manager announced in June of 2001 that TriMet would pay to preserve and study the line for a future streetcar or commuter rail line. Portland Streetcar is now studying the route, which would continue south from the Gibbs extension.


Since the streetcars are lighter than light rail vehicles, fewer public utilities had to be moved in the excavation of tracks. Sidewalks and parking were not disrupted because stations only required small sidewalk reconstruction and the use of one standard city parking spot for stations. Electrical systems were built underneath sidewalks near streetcar stops.

The streetcar flows with traffic, so no roads had to be re-built, nor did new traffic devices need to be installed.


A yard underneath the elevated portion of I-405 at Sixteenth Street serves as a storage and maintenance area. If heavier maintenance needs to be done, streetcar tracks connect to MAX tracks at the intersection of Tenth and Morrison Streets. Streetcars can use MAX tracks to travel to either the Elmonica or Ruby Junction MAX yards. While Streetcars are able to utilize the MAX system, MAX trains can not navigate a steep grade and the tight turns on the Portland Streetcar system.

Streetcars operate entirely upon city streets, except for some short stretches on the Portland State University campus. Automobiles are allowed to drive on streetcar tracks. The streetcar operators, in turn, must obey traffic signals and obey automobile traffic laws. Average speed for streetcars is about 15 MPH.

Unlike their contemporaries in Europe and the regional MAX system, the Škoda vehicles only operate in single-car consists, since double car trains would not fit in the stations. Despite this, streetcars can be coupled together in order to tow or push disabled vehicles back to the yards.

Advertising and Sponsorship

Advertising is not allowed on Portland Streetcars or in streetcar stations. However, if a company sponsors a streetcar, they are allowed to place a small logo on the side of the car. Currently, all streetcars are sponsored.Each streetcar station bears the station name on its shelter and the sponsoring company's name on the side. When a station is announced on board the streetcar, the sponsoring company's name is mentioned after the station name. Station sponsors are also allowed to place a small advert inside the shelter beside the streetcar schedules.

Train Frequency

Streetcars are usually six minutes apart on weekdays. Less frequent service on Saturdays and Sundays brings the headway up to 15 minutes, although ridership figures are showing an increase in demand for service on weekends.

A real-time NextBus tracking system monitors streetcars in service, which mostly eliminates the need for schedules. Most stations now feature digital readout screens displaying the time, in minutes, until the next streetcar will arrive. This information is also available online through a link on the Portland Streetcar website.


Seven Škoda-Inekon Astra 10T tram cars were ordered by the City of Portland for the Portland Streetcar line. Vehicles were manufactured in Plsen, Czech Republic, then shipped to Portland via freighter. The Portland Streetcar marks Škoda's entry into the US market. The vehicles are similar in design to those in use in Europe, albeit with several noticeable differences. Most notable of which are the addition of a second cab for bidirectional use, hidden couplers, and some controls and electronics similar to those on MAX vehicles.

Each car is handicapped accessible, allowing wheelchair access by use of a "bridge plate", similar to MAX vehicles. Other ADA-compliant features are recorded system announcements and reader boards inside the vehicles which indicate an upcoming station's name and sponsor.

There are currently seven Škodas in the Portland Streetcar fleet, numbered 001-007. Two of these (006 & 007) were built along with an order for 3 similar vehicles going to Sound Transit's Tacoma Link line in Tacoma, Washington.

Each streetcar is painted in a combination of two of the following colors: teal, blue, red, and orange. The sides of the vehicle are painted in different colors wrapping around each cab section respectively. From different angles, the same streetcar can appear to be two different solid colors. The colors reflect the four street grid quadrants of the city of Portland (Northwest, Southwest, Northeast, and Southeast- There is a North quadrant that is not represented). The sky blue exterior molding symbolizes the Willamette River.

For the 2009 expansion to the South Waterfront area, three new cars were ordered. The partnership between Škoda and Inekon dissolved, so these new cars, numbers 008-010, were built in Ostrava, Czech Republic, by a partnership between Inkeon and the Ostrava transit agency (Dopravní Podnik Ostrava). The new cars are called model 12T, a variation of the 10T with mostly common parts.

Another new car is being constructed by Oregon Iron Works in Clackamas, under license from Škoda. This venture is being called "United Streetcar", and the prototype car was supposed to be on the property in summer 2009.

Two Portland Vintage Trolleys serve on the Portland Streetcar route on Sundays. Originally, they served as spares until the last two Škoda vehicles were received. Also before the modern vehicles were acquired, the Vintage Trolleys were the only rail vehicles in Portland nimble enough to test the newly constructed line.


<a href="portlandscmap.html">Portland Streetcar Track Map</a>

Station by Station

The tour shall begin in Northwest Portland and work east and south to RiverPlace. We'll also take a quick peek at the Gibbs Extension while we're down there.

Note: Although the system functions as a double-track system, most of it has some characteristics of a loop line due to the use of one-way street pairs. Many of the stations on one-way streets are functionally paired with their counterpart on the opposite direction street. For this reason and simplicity, this tour will recognize the line as a north-south, (mostly) double-tracked system. Stations that are paired will be mentioned in the following format: southbound name/northbound name. Unpaired stations will be mentioned separately, but in the order that they are encountered.

Northwest Portland (NW 23rd and Marshall to I-405)

Northwest Portland is a major upscale shopping, dining, and entertainment district. The main areas of these activities are concentrated along NW 23rd and 21st Avenues, both served by stations on the Portland Streetcar line. The rest of the immediate neighborhood is mostly residential.The Streetcar can be considered to both end and begin at the NW 23rd and Marshall terminal, as it is inside the loop section taking inbound trains onto 23rd from Northrup Street, then out onto Lovejoy Street. This section surrounds the Good Samaritan Hospital complex on three sides.

For the rest of the route through Northwest Portland, trains headed south to RiverPlace travel east on Lovejoy Street, and 23rd Avenue-bound trains travel westbound on Northrup Street. Paired stations are two blocks away from each other. The stations include NW 21st & Lovejoy/NW 21st & Northrup and NW 18th & Lovejoy/NW 18 & Northrup.

Portland Streetcar Yards (Under I-405 at 16th Street)

In the 1970's, Interstate 405 was built elevated between the Northwest Portland and what became the Pearl District. It roughly follows 16th Street on its way to the Fremont Bridge. The space underneath between Northrup and Lovejoy Streets was utilized as the Portland Streetcar's operations and maintenance facility. The yard serves as storage for the Portland Streetcar fleet, as well as two Portland Vintage Trolleys.

The maintenance building's bays allow work to be done on two vehicles simultaneously with complete access to both the undercarriage and roof areas. Management offices are also located in the maintenance building.

The yard will likely be expanded as the current fleet is slated to grow.

The yards are connected to both the Lovejoy and Northrup tracks. Streetcars inbound to the yard usually complete a trip to NW 23rd, then enter the yards from the Lovejoy Street side. Operators often change shifts here, stopping the train on the Northrup street side and handing the train over to their reliever.

Pearl District (I-405 to Burnside Street)

After crossing under I-405, the Streetcar route enters the Pearl District. This whole area has undergone a significant transformation since the 1990's, as the former Burlington Northern rail yards and industrial warehouses have been replaced by new condo developments. The area has become quite trendy and upscale as art galleries, hair salons, and restaurants have opened while most of the former industrial establishments have left. The Portland Streetcar route curves through this neighborhood.

RiverPlace-bound trains turn off NW Lovejoy Street and onto NW 11th Avenue to travel southbound. Northwest Portland-bound trains run north on NW 10th Avenue, turning onto NW Northrup Street.

Stations on the Lovejoy/Northrup section are NW 13th & Lovejoy/NW 14th & Northrup and NW 12th & Northrup. These stations serve the Bridgeport Brewery and Brewpub (a popular local micro-brewer) and the Pacific Northwest College of Art. New development in the Pearl, once concentrated mainly on 10th and 11th Avenues, is now building north and west around this section of the streetcar route.

The 10th and 11th Avenue sections are located through the heart of the Pearl District: NW 10th & Marshall (northbound only) was closed at the opening of the Portland Streetcar due to lack of development around it. It has since opened to serve new condo towers and a soon-to-open (as of this writing) city park. NW 11th & Johnson/NW 10th & Johnson serve the new Jameson Square park. Power poles supporting the Streetcar's overhead wires have been decorated to look like stylized, abstract art totem poles. It is also the closest station pair to Amtrak service at Union Station (about 5 blocks east).

A nearby condo development was renamed the Streetcar Lofts during its construction. A late addition to the project was a large neon sign reading "Go by Streetcar", which recalls nearby Union Station's landmark "Go by Train" sign on its clock tower.

The NW 11th & Glisan/NW 10th & Glisan and NW 11th & Everett/NW 10th & Everett station pairs serve areas of the Pearl that still contain some industrial services, although new development is more prominent.

Because TriMet's "Fareless Square" ends at Irving Street, riders continuing northbound must purchase a Portland Streetcar ticket to continue past the Glisan Street stop. Southbound passengers, at this time, need not purchase fare to ride all the way to the southern end of the line.

The former North Bank Depot, used for a short time as Portland's second rail passenger station, straddles 11th Avenue at Everett Street. The buildings were designed for use as freight depots by the Spokane, Portland, And Seattle Railroad (later fully merged into Burlington Northern). Disputes over running trains into Union Station forced the SP&S and it's interurban Oregon Electric Railway (OER) to terminate service here. The buildings have since been renovated into condominiums. From here, the Portland Streetcar follows the old OER route south on 11th Avenue.

NW 11th & Couch/NW 10th & Couch serve the busy West Burnside corridor. The stops are located near both sides of Powell's City of Books, a business supporter of the Portland Streetcar line and famous Portland bookstore.

Another major redevelopment project of note is the former Henry Weinhard's Brewery. Quickly after the brewery was closed, the four block area was redeveloped into office and condo space. The former brewery house was preserved and incorporated into the complex for use as a microbrew pub.

West End/Cultural District (Burnside Street to 10th/Market)

West Burnside Street divides the Northwest Street quadrant from the Southwest. From this point on, the Portland Streetcar runs on the 11th/10th Avenue pair just west of the downtown core. This is a distinct area of downtown Portland known as the "West End", an area currently undergoing many developmental changes, with even more to come in the future. The southern section of this neighborhood is also part of Portland's Cultural District, as many of Portland's premier concert halls and museums are concentrated there. The Cultural District is also the section of the West End currently undergoing the most drastic of redevelopment in the neighborhood.

The SW 10th & Stark (northbound only) stop serves a nightclub and entertainment area. Further south are the SW 11th & Alder/SW 10th & Alder stops. Northbound Streetcars stop literally at the front door of the Galleria, the former Olds, Worthman, and King department store. This terra-cotta building has had an interesting life since the department store closed, serving first as a shopping mall, it now is under restoration and home to the Western Culinary Institute.

On the blocks immediately south, the Streetcar line passes over the MAX light rail tracks on Morrison and Yamhill Streets. The 11th Avenue crossing was the most difficult section of the Portland Streetcar system, as the tracks and overhead wires had to cross over switches, into and out of, the MAX 11th Avenue loop yards in addition to the eastbound and westbound MAX tracks.

The 10th Avenue crossing was built to allow Portland Streetcar access to the MAX tracks. A switch at Morrison Street allows this, although the streetcar must reverse onto it.

South of this crossing are the SW 11th & Taylor/Central Library station pair. The stops are on either side of the Multnomah County Central Library. These stops, along with the stops on Alder Street, are the closest transfer stations to the MAX system.

New development and the cultural district are prominent at the SW 11th & Jefferson/Art Museum stops. The Portland Art Museum sits right off the northbound platform, while the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, the Oregon Historical Society, and Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall are a short walk across the Park Blocks. The blocks on 10th and 11th Avenues between the Art Museum station pair and the next stations, SW 11th & Clay/SW 10th & Clay either have been or are in the process of redevelopment. Two large condominium projects are under construction, while three have recently been completed. The new development juxtaposes with some of Portland's oldest churches, the oldest of which is near the Clay street southbound platforms.

After this point, southbound streetcars continue down 11th Avenue, then curve onto SW Market Street. Northbound trains curve off SW Mill Street and onto 10th Avenue. At the intersection of 10th and Market, the north and southbound tracks cross. At this junction, a switch exists to allow streetcars to operate solely as a looped system, but it is seldom used.

Before Portland State University added funds to the Portland Streetcar construction project, the system was to end on this loop, with tracks later to be extended to the university added as part of the RiverPlace extension.

Portland State University (10th/Market-SW Montgomery Street)

As a major Oregon public university located in a dense urban environment, PSU is known for its urban planning program and being friendly to public transportation. Keeping with it's reputation, the farsighted addition of PSU funds to the Portland Streetcar project allowed the university to be served during the starting phase of the project. PSU also used the occasion to build a brand new building for its School of Urban Planning.

Tracks for the RiverPlace-bound trains run on Market Street, while northbound service runs on Mill Street due to the existing one-way street grid. The main station pair serving the campus are the SW Park & Market/SW Park & Mill platforms. These stops are directly upon the Portland Park Blocks. The tree-lined Portland Park Blocks, which run north-south between the streetcar line and Broadway, are lined with most of the important campus buildings south of Market Street. The area north of Market street is mostly lined by the historic churches or cultural institutions described above.

Portions of the street grid were closed for PSU, so a small portion of Mill Street is streetcar-only.

Continuing on, the next southbound station is at SW 5th and Market Its functional northbound twin is the PSU Urban Center platform. Transfers from these stops to bus service on the Portland Transit mall on Fifth and Sixth Avenues are available here.

The alignment for the northbound tracks runs diagonally through the brick-paved plaza of the new PSU School of Urban Studies, while the southbound tracks curve onto SW 5th Avenue to meet the northbound tracks at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Montgomery Street. A southbound-only station, SW 5th & Montgomery, is situated before the meeting of the tracks.

When the tracks join, they curve onto Montgomery Street on a single-track section. Prior to commencement of the extension to RiverPlace, this was a stub track for trains to terminate on (passenger service ended at the SW 5th and Montgomery stop). Trains used to lay over here, then continue back to Northwest Portland by reversing direction. During the initial segment's opening ceremonies, much emphasis was placed on the fact that this was a temporary terminal by public officials.

With the construction and opening of the RiverPlace extension, a single tracked section was built off the Montgomery stub, rendering it a stub no more. Although now Portland Streetcars can now continue through, Portland Vintage Trolleys are to reverse here when they run on Sundays. Technical issues with the Vintage Trolley vehicles do not allow them to use the new RiverPlace extension. However, to continue on in a Škoda vehicle, please read on...

RiverPlace Extension (SW Montgomery Street to SW River Parkway & Moody)

The single track addition to the former Montgomery stub takes trains onto Fourth Avenue. This section of single track is quite short, as it curves and splits into double tracks again at SW Harrison Street. The double tracks continue all the way to the end of the line.

The stations of the RiverPlace extension were the first (and currently only) center platform stops built on the system. Here, the route runs east-west on Harrison Street through the Portland Center Apartments. The architecture of this area is almost completely modernist, as the southernmost fringes of the downtown core were redeveloped when the large South Auditorium District Urban Renewal Area project began in the 1950's. Harrison Street was kept as a two-way street and received a landscaped median. The two stations along SW Harrison Street, SW 3rd & Harrison and SW 1st and Harrison, are built into this median.

After crossing Naito Parkway (formerly and sometimes still referred to as Front Avenue), the route descends into the RiverPlace Marina on a new road structure. The roadway and its sole station are referred to as SW Harrison Roadway. Vehicular traffic is also allowed on the structure, providing a second route down to Harbor Drive, a major access point to I-5 southbound. The roadway's grade has been referred to as too steep for the trains of the MAX system, but Portland Streetcar's Škoda vehicles can handle them perfectly.

After leaving the Harrison Roadway, trains cross SW Harbor Drive, a remnant of an old freeway of the same name that Waterfront Park replaced further to the north. The new Harrison Roadway aligns with SW River Parkway at the southernmost edge of the RiverPlace Marina development.

Streetcar tracks follow River Parkway to SW Moody Avenue. While the heart of RiverPlace is considered to be centered around the marina and hotel farther north (and accessible via stairs at the Harrison Roadway station), the southern edge boasts residential development, an office building, and a hotel. The last major undeveloped piece of the RiverPlace development is now under construction. Just across from the Strand condominium project,is where Portland Streetcars presently end their journey south: the SW River Parkway station. Directly after the station, the double tracks join again to form a single track as the route curves onto Moody Avenue. Trains continue on Moody Avenue's median for a short distance until stopping at a temporary layover area.

As of this writing, completed tracks have been built past this section, and look ready for the new Gibbs Extension.

South Waterfront (AKA the Gibbs Extension- SW River Parkway & Moody to SW Gibbs Street)

The single-track Gibbs Extension will take Portland Streetcars another 0.6 miles south to the South Waterfront neighborhood, presently under construction. So far, much of the track work is complete, giving some glimpses into the future service. One interesting feature is that the Portland Streetcar's first off-street, tie-and-ballast trackway section has been built. Once opened, the streetcar will terminate at the extension's only station, SW Gibbs. While other stations may be added as the South Waterfront development grows, no official word has been given to the location of any future stops or whether any will be built.The extension, along with an aerial tram up to OHSU on Marquam Hill are slated to open sometime in 2006.

Photo Gallery

Five Random Images

Image 33002

(193k, 720x478)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: SW 10th/Art Museum

Image 52276

(213k, 864x540)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: SW Harrison/Harbor Dr.

Image 52277

(172k, 864x574)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: SW Harrison/Harbor Dr.

Image 52283

(197k, 864x574)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: SW Harrison/Harbor Dr.

Image 106031

(237k, 930x618)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Portland State Urban Center

More Images: 1-50 51-100 101-150 151-179

Photos By Location

NW 23rd/Marshall, NW 22nd/Lovejoy, NW 22nd/Northrup, NW 21st/Lovejoy, NW 21st/Northrup, NW 18th/Lovejoy, NW 18th/Northrup, Streetcar Yard, NW 14th/Lovejoy, NW 14th/Northrup, NW 13th/Lovejoy, NW 12th/Northrup, NW 10th/Marshall, NW 11th/Kearney, NW 11th/Johnson, NW 10th/Johnson, NW 11th/Hoyt, NW 11th/Glisan, NW 10th/Glisan, NW 11th/Everett, NW 10th/Everett, NW 11th/Couch, NW 10th/Couch, SW 10th/Burnside, SW 10th/Stark, SW 11th/Alder, SW 10th/Alder, SW 10th/Harrison, SW 10th/Morrison, SW 10th/Yamhill, SW 11th/Yamhill, SW 11th Loop/Yard, Central Library, SW 11th/Taylor, SW 10th/Art Museum, SW 11th/Jefferson, SW 10th/Clay, SW 11th/Clay, 11th Ave-Location Unknown, SW 10th/Market, SW 10th/Mill, 10th Ave-Location Unknown, SW Park/Market, SW Park/Mill, SW Mill/Broadway, SW 5th/Market, Portland State Urban Center, SW 5th/Mill, SW 5th/Montgomery, SW 4th/Montgomery, Fmr. Montgomery St. Terminus, SW 4th/Harrison, SW 3rd/Harrison, SW 1st/Harrison, SW Harrison/Naito/Front, SW Harrison Roadway, SW Harrison/Harbor Dr., SW River Parkway, Moody Avenue Terminus, Tilikum Crossing, SW Moody/Gibbs, SW Moody/Curry, SW Moody/Gaines, SW Moody/Lowell, Lowell Terminal, SW Bond/Lane, SW Bond/OHSU Plaza, (Misc/Unknown)


Official Site - Portland Streetcar. Official site of the Portland Streetcar, with schedules, maps, fares, real-time arrivals, and more!

Official Site - TriMet. Tri-County Metropolitan Transit District of Oregon Schedules, real-time arrivals, and more!

NW Virtual Transit Center. Unofficial transit site covering Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

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By Adam J. Benjamin.

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