Mo’ Métro blues…

Azur Métro train rendering

The first Azur Métro train is set to start rolling Sunday at 10:00 am on the Orange Line.


The Quebec government awarded the contract to build 468 MPM-10 (Azur) Métro cars (forming 52 nine-car trains) to the Bombardier-Alstom consortium back in 2010 at a cost of $1.2 billion.

Deliveries were expected to begin in 2014, and one prototype was delivered to begin in-tunnel testing. This led to the discovery of unexpected complications, namely insufficient electrical power. Prior complications included the discovery a 200-meter section of the Orange Line was a touch smaller than the rest, requiring renovations to prevent the new Azurs from ‘grinding’ against the tunnel walls or ceiling.

In January of 2015 work on the project was suspended for six months in order for the consortium to work out problems with the trains’ automated switching software.

And now, one completed train has been delivered for entry into service. It is the first new Métro train in forty years and the third generation of trains to operate in the system. The Azurs will operate on the Orange and Blue lines, displacing the second-generation MR-73 trains onto the Green and Yellow lines. The MR-73s entered into service in 1976 and were refurbished in 2005-2008. The MR-63s currently operating on the Green and Yellow lines are fifty years old and the first trains to ever operate on the Métro.

According to a Bombardier spokesman, five more completed trains will begin operating soon and the company expects to have five or six more trains completed by the end of this year. All 52 trains are expected to be delivered by 2018, lest Bombardier-Alstom risk the wrath of the STM and Transport Quebec…

As to replacing the MR-73s, that’ll have to wait until the 2030s because, well, much like the MR-63s, they were rather well-built. There’s also no current plan to build the several hundred additional Azurs that would be required on top of the 468 currently on order.

On the same day the STM made their triumphant announcement, La Presse reported Transport Quebec discovered in mid-January the initial cost estimates concerning the extension of the Métro’s Blue Line by five stations to the east will now cost roughly twice as much ($2.9 billion).

Two years ago the AMT’s cost evaluation put the figure around $1.5 billion, but since then a Federal election occurred and the swarthy new prime minister has announced a major infrastructure spending spree. Mass transit projects aimed at reducing carbon emissions will almost assuredly get federal funds.

It should be noted that, as recently as a year ago, provincial transport minister Robert Poeti and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre both seemed favourable to extending the Blue Line above-ground by using light-rail, though neither offered any particulars on how two different mass transit systems would be linked. Poeti indicated a Blue Line extension wasn’t even a priority, at the time. How things have changed! Coderre, who had previously argued Métro extensions were too expensive, is now very enthusiastic and argued it’s vital to the development of Montreal’s eastern sectors. He said this in the same breath as he mentioned several other transit dossiers which include a light rail system for the Champlain Bridge (and possibly other parts of the city) and a new West Island/Airport express train.

Of course none of this is particularly new: the plan to extend the Blue Line east goes back forty years at least. The map above dates back to when the City of Montreal was playing a more direct role in the development of the Métro, (my guess is 1976 given most of the Green Line stations are correct but the planning names of the western Orange Line stations are still listed. You’ll also notice the western extension of the Blue Line from Snowdon towards Ville Saint-Pierre, and that the eastern part of the Blue Line goes up towards Montréal-Nord), and as you can see back then bigger plans were in mind.

But herein lies the crux of the problem: Métro extensions are not planned by the City of Montreal or the STM, but pêle-mêle by a provincial government agency. Same story vis-à-vis the Azurs: the purchase was made by the provincial government for the STM.

It still boggles my mind that the future of high-speed mass-transit in Montreal will be decided by a provincial government agency, and apparently if and when the Fed decides to spend money on transit infrastructure. Montreal should be doing this on its own, and should further be setting its own development pace and priorities.

The question is whether expansion would be a priority for a local planning agency, especially when it comes to the Blue Line, currently the least used of Montreal’s four Métro lines. Connecting the Blue Line to the Mount Royal Tunnel, modifying the Green and Orange lines to accommodate a higher rate-of-service, or even re-designing the stations of the Blue and Yellow lines to accommodate nine-car Métro trains could all be seen as greater priorities if the ultimate aim was to increase ridership.

Ostensibly this is the underlying justification of the Blue Line expansion, but I have my doubts this is the best possible use of three billion dollars in new infrastructure spending. What I don’t doubt is the new figure likely has far more to do with the Fed’s newfound interest in urban mass transit than the actual costs of building a five-station Métro extension.

And on a closing note, don’t expect to see the Azurs operating on the Blue Line anytime too soon. A Bombardier spokesman told me the Azur train sets are only available in a nine-car configuration, though the stations on that line currently use MR-73s in a six-car configuration (again, owing to low use). The platform lengths of the Blue Line stations are the same length as all the other Métro stations, but also all have barriers on account of the shorter trains. The Bombardier spox indicated that the Azurs can’t be shortened and wouldn’t be operated on the Blue Line until the stations are modified.

So far, no indication the STM will go through with those renovations, nor is there any idea of how much that will cost.