Tag Archives: History of the Montreal Métro

Tempest in a Teapot

New Azur Métro train test run - 2013
New Azur Métro train test run – 2013

Story out today in the Journal de Montréal about how the Azur Métro cars will be ‘too big and too heavy’ to operate in our Métro tunnels and that work had to be done to adjust the infrastructure so as to prevent trains from tipping over is about as good as it gets in terms of local media’s response to a slow news day.

The article is presented in such a fashion that makes it seem the STM only just found out about this and that these renovations may be somehow related to the delay in receiving the new Métro cars, which were initially due last July but now likely won’t be in service until the end of this year.

But according to the STM (and mentioned in the JdeM article), they new about the requirement to modify a 200 metre stretch of the Orange Line to accommodate the new trains from day one, and that the work has already been completed and factored into the overall budget.

If this is indeed the case and the STM isn’t perjuring itself then there isn’t much of a story in the first place. Yes, the new Bombardier-Alstom Azur Métro trains are heavier and bigger and will even consume more electricity than their predecessors but all of this was expected and understood since day one.

After all, these are entirely new vehicles. They are not carbon copies of the existing MR-63 and MR-73 trains. They’re bigger to accommodate more passengers. They utilize new technology. They will have a different layout and, perhaps most importantly, will permit transit users to move between Métro cars while the train is in motion. I think it’s safe to assume that, if you’re building something entirely new, it might not perfectly fit in a system it wasn’t designed for.

But, with all that in mind, the modification to the tunnels only seems to have involved 200 metres out of a total length of 71 kilometres.

In other words, less than half a percent of the Métro system needed to be modified for these vehicles. Peanuts. The STM knew this and made the decision to modify a portion of the tunnel rather than scrap the project and go back to the drawing board.

If we want to have a conversation about how private enterprise can’t ever seem to deliver a government project on time and under budget, this is another conversation (and one I’d say is well worth having). It seems to me that, time and again and at various levels of government, contractors working on government-sponsored mega projects are consistently late and chronically appealing for more money.

This is true about our new Métro cars, about the Train de l’Est project, about double-decker dual-power commuter trains, about fighter jets and maritime helicopters.

Every time government appeals to the private sector to work on public projects, they pitch it against an illogical assumption the alternative is to have the state build a factory and assume all related project costs. Over and over we’re told that appealing to the private sector saves money and will get the job done faster because of ‘the principles that guide the corporate world’ are ostensibly principles that prioritize efficiency and staying true to your word vis-a-vis project cost and delivery.


The private sector’s interest in government contracts big and small is twofold, but neither has anything to do with efficiency and/or cost control. The interest lies chiefly in that a) government typically continues throwing money at the project and extending deadlines to save face and b) there are no repercussions to the provider, regardless of how late or how over-budget the project is, because they typically arrange to be the sole provider for after the fact maintenance, not to mention the fact that they own type certificates and other key pieces of intellectual capital that will keep whatever’s being built working. If a government upsets the private firm, they have very little recourse and will likely pay dearly at the polls. It’s not terribly expedient for a politician to campaign on keeping government contractors in check. People respond much better to hearing how much a politician intends on spending rather than how they plan on saving money.

We want to feel wealthy, not cheap, and we want our politicians to reflect this.

Ultimately, this is why we can’t have nice things at a reasonable, audited cost on the timeline set by the people.

On the STM’s Wasteful Renaming Policy

ICAO Headquarters, Montreal - credit to Provencher Roy
ICAO Headquarters, Montreal – credit to Provencher Roy

Recent news is that the STM will temporarily lift its self-imposed moratorium on renaming Métro stations so that Square-Victoria can be re-christened “Square-Victoria-OACI”.

The rationale is that it will help convince the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO or OACI in French) to continue operating from our fair city, this after an audacious attempt by the Qatari government to convince the UN body to move its operations to the Persian Gulf state last year.

We need to keep in mind that Qatar withdrew its bid after a roughly week-long (and uncharacteristic) lobbying blitz orchestrated by the Federal Tories (with considerable cooperation from the then separatist government of Quebec) that ultimately resulted in a near unanimous decision by ICAO’s member nations to refuse the unsolicited Qatari proposal outright.

Kudos on a job well done. It just goes to show that with the right motivation even the most diametrically opposed governments can cooperate fully to achieve a common goal. It’s clear to everyone concerned ICAO is better off staying in Montreal where it provides about 500 ‘big league’ jobs to our city’s knowledge economy, not to mention an immeasurable amount of global clout. That ICAO is located in Montreal says something about our city. In my eyes, it says we’re a safe bet, a solid investment, the kind of city where the world comes together.

Based on the response to Qatar’s push, I’d argue the world knows and appreciates this as well. Quite frankly I’d be astonished if the international community permitted ICAO to be moved to an absolute monarchy where dissent is punishable by life sentences and where hundreds of thousands of South Asian migrants are worked to death building sports stadiums in de facto slavery.

Say what you will about the quality of our construction industry here in Montreal, at least we don’t use slave labour.

In any event, the point is this: the Qataris have a long way to go before they can make a serious bid, so why is the STM going to the trouble of re-naming Square-Victoria Métro station at all?

Is ICAO looking to move? Do they really need to be convinced to stay?

If ICAO were actually seriously considering moving from Montreal, are we to believe all it would take to get them to change their minds is renaming a Métro station (by making it longer and more cumbersome)? Give me a break.

Despite this, the STM is going forward with their plan to rename the station – with zero public input. Total cost: $125,000

According to the STM the cost pays for printing new Métro maps, new signage at the station as well as new audio recordings of the station’s name. I can imagine the overwhelming bulk of the sum is in fact going towards printing.

I think this is supremely wasteful. It’s unnecessary and it won’t accomplish anything concrete. Worse, the public wasn’t consulted – this is a unilateral decision of the STM – and, as if this wasn’t bad enough, the STM’s renaming policy is still in effect for all other Métro stations, despite public interest in getting other stations renamed.

It wouldn’t be quite as bad if the STM were to instead select a certain number of stations and solicit the public for suggestions on how they should be renamed. In doing so, not only would they have directly engaged with their clientele, but they would ultimately get a greater value for the money they’ve allocated to new printing.

Keep this in mind – the printing costs will remain about the same even if a dozen stations were to be renamed.

So with that in mind let me put it to you – what stations would you rename?

There are two proposals that come to mind already. First, there’s been pressure from Jewish and Black communities for several years to rename Lionel-Groulx. The reason is that, despite the Abbé Groulx’s contributions to writing the nationalist interpretation of French Canadian history, he was also a ell-known anti-Semite who founded a local fascist organization. As you might expect this doesn’t sit well with many people. Oscar Peterson, the ‘Maharaja of the keyboard’ who helped solidify this city’s position as a focal point for jazz music, is often mentioned as a preferred name choice, given Peterson’s legacy and his attachment to the area the station is located in.

Also, if I recall correctly, the Gay Village merchant’s association has proposed changing Beaudry station’s name to ‘Beaudry-Le-Village’. I’d prefer it simply be renamed Le Village.

I’d also like most of the religious station names, like Assomption or Pie-IX to be renamed, and I’m not too keen on First World War French generals (De Castelnau) or battle sites (Namur, Verdun) either.

Anyways – let me know what you think; which stations would you rename and why?

Fantasy Montreal Transit Map

A Montreal Transit Fantasy Map by Yours Truly
A Fantasy Montreal Transit Map by Yours Truly

Perhaps I’ve got a smidge too much time on my hands…

In any event, here’s my very own Montreal transit fantasy map. This is the mass transit system I’d like to see for my city, ideally within the next twenty years but hey, much sooner would be great too.

What you’re looking at is our existing Métro with the AMT system superimposed along with some improvements I think are both reasonable and would be effective at increasing use of public transit in general.

The Métro is represented much as you might expect with thick lines of green, blue, yellow and orange.

AMT commuter rail lines are indicated by the thin coloured lines and, in this graphic, only intermodal stations on those lines are indicated.

The thin red line with stations represents a possible light rail route.

White dots indicate ordinary Métro stations. Large white circles with black rings indicate Métro transfer stations, like Snowdon or Berri-UQAM. Medium size white circles with black rings indicate Métro stations that could be linked to a surface light rail system (LRT, which I’ll get into later on), while large white boxes indicate STM-AMT intermodal stations (i.e. a station in which passengers can switch from commuter rail to the Métro and vice-versa). Four stations are represented by large white boxes with rounded edges (like Bonaventure); these stations are like the aforementioned intermodal stations, though in this case there is a further connection to the proposed LRT.

Concerning extensions, I’ve used the existing AMT commuter rail network, including the soon to be completed Train de l’Est going towards Mascouche (indicated by the thin magenta line) and have added a possible route that, much like the Train de l’Est, shares part of the AMT’s Deux-Montagnes line. The turquoise-coloured line could potentially provide a third commuter rail line to the West Island, relieving the already congested and over-burdened Deux-Montagnes & Hudson lines and providing service almost as far as the Fairview Pointe-Claire shopping centre (though, admittedly, there’d be a lot of work to do to actually connect what remains of this branch with the shopping centre and it’s key bus terminus). Because so much of the Hymus Branch cuts through the Pointe-Claire industrial sector along Highway 40, it’s possible that a kind of ‘express’ service develop here (as there wouldn’t be much point developing stations between a potential terminus near Fairview and where the Hymus Branch links up with the Deux-Montagnes line). Alternatively, I suppose it wouldn’t make much difference if a train station were simply built where the line currently ends and STM buses connected it with Fairview’s bus terminal, but I digress.

I should mention I don’t favour extending the Métro to Fairview when there’s a rail corridor that could just as easily be repurposed. A third West Island rail line (especially one that would cut right through the middle of the West Island) could potentially remove tens of thousands of cars from our already overly congested roads while providing an added incentive to live on-island.

As to the Métro, I’ve included the planned Blue Line extension to Anjou, but have further included a Blue Line extension from Snowdon to the AMT’s Montreal West train station near Loyola College in NDG. Further, I’ve included a Blue Line extension through the Mount Royal Tunnel from Edouard-Montpetit to Bonaventure, so as to allow for the Blue Line to connect directly with the central business district and the downtown train stations. As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, the Blue Line was originally intended to connect withe the downtown via the Mount Royal Tunnel, which is now being transferred from Canadian National to the AMT, which happens to plan both Métro and commuter rail development.

In a similar vein, I’ve prolonged the Green Line from Angrignon west through LaSalle to intersect the AMT’s Candiac line, providing an intermodal station right after the bridge, while the Orange Line has been extended north by two stops in Saint-Laurent with a new terminus at an intermodal station at Bois-Franc on the busy Deux-Montagnes Line (which currently accounts for 45% of the AMT’s passengers). The Yellow Line has also been extended to alleviate congestion on the Orange and Green lines that pass through the CBD. The new Yellow Line would have a station at (or near) the Bonsecours Market to provide better access to the Old Port and Old Montreal and would terminate at McGill rather than Berri-UQAM, with stops on Prince-Arthur (near St-Laurent in an effort to revitalize the pedestrian mall), Parc & Pine (to access the mountain, Parc Jeanne-Mance, Molson Stadium etc.) and somewhere along Milton to open up the McGill Ghetto.

And then I added the purple line along Pie-IX boulevard, running from Montreal North to the Olympic Stadium, with a transfer station where it intersects the Blue Line, and an intermodal station connecting to the AMT’s Mascouche line.

Where’s This Coming From?

Many of these extensions are based on proposals or extension studies carried out in the past. In fact, as recently as the last municipal election, Projet Montréal proposed western extensions of the Blue and Yellow lines in addition to the northern extension of the Orange line to Bois-Franc. So this map isn’t exactly original and for that reason I think it’s a safe bet we’re moving in this direction anyways, it’s just a matter of time.

In addition, using the Mount Royal Tunnel to get the Blue Line to the city, and building a new line under Pie-IX, have both been on the drawing board before (in fact, the official STM map from about 1980 to 1990 portrayed the Pie-IX line as the inevitable next step as a dotted white line).

Perhaps the most unique component of this transit map is the inclusion of a possible surface light-rail route, as indicated by the thin red line on the map, but in this case as well, I’m not exactly starting from scratch. Given that the new Champlain Bridge is supposed to have an LRT integrated into it, and that the most likely route from the bridge to the city is up the Bonaventure Corridor, I figured such a system could theoretically make use of much more of this city’s existing rail infrastructure.

Thus, the Red Line loops around the city – a light train could run from Lucien-L’Allier train station all the way to Bonaventure, the long way, and provide a kind of public transit ‘ring road’ that would connect all the extant Métro lines with all AMT commuter rail lines at multiple points of intersection.

I also added a second branch of the Red Line designed to mirror the old Expo Express Line, though my version would connect directly to the Longueuil Métro station and bus terminus, effectively providing residents of our major South Shore neighbour two convenient methods of accessing the city centre.

This would effectively turn Place Bonaventure into a major transit hub, linking the city’s two main train stations with the heart of the RÉSO and further becoming the main terminal for a potential light rail system.

Two Métro lines, six (possibly seven) commuter rail lines, an LRT system, local, commuter and regional bus service, access to the Underground City, VIA Rail and AMTRAK all concentrated into a very small, very well connected area.

I can imagine Place Bonaventure would be renamed Gare Bonaventure were such a thing to happen.

What’s the Point?

I don’t want our public transit system to become a victim of it’s own success. In the last decade use of the Métro and AMT commuter rail systems has increased dramatically, but because we’re not doing enough to expand and improve these systems along with increases in usage, we’re coming across new challenges. It’s rather ironic – our public transit system is congested. The system we devised to mitigate congestion on our roads and highways has itself become congested, and that in turn is turning people away from our public mass transit system.

I don’t think there’s a single solution, but integrating the multiple solutions we come up with is probably the right move. The Red Line LRT could provide two new mass transit connections to the South Shore, alleviating congestion on the Métro and bridges and providing an alternative to the commuter rail line. It would also help to connect various parts of the city without forcing additional passengers into the central portions of the Orange and Green lines. Similarly, modifying the Mount Royal Tunnel for Métro use and extending the Yellow Line would mean four Métro lines (rather than two) would have direct access to the massive transit hub in the heart of the financial district.

As I mentioned before, this LRT route would further be useful in linking outer segments of otherwise disconnected Métro lines and help bridge ‘high capacity transit deserts’ in some of the first ring urban residential zones.

I look at this map and I see the potential for a city that is much better connected to itself, evolving past our current model which is effectively only designed to move commuters at two different rates of operation and along two different scales of distance. The system I’ve envisioned is designed to connect as much of the city as possible to high-speed, high-capacity mass transit, while further permitting a greater amount of the most heavily populated part of the island to exist within a well-defined ‘high-access’ zone. With eleven intermodal stations, more of urban Montreal becomes accessible to suburban commuters, which in turn could provide prospective suburban home owners with many more options to choose from.

And in the city, well, imagine a system such as this along with more buses, reserved bus lanes and even bus rapid transit (BRT) replacing traditional bus routes.

Would anyone living in downtown Montreal really need a car with such a system?

Ultimately, and regardless of cleaner, more fuel efficient or otherwise electric engines, congestion is still going to be a major concern. We have to realize that our street system was designed, for the most part, in a horse-drawn era in which mass transit was the norm for everyone. Our roads aren’t really built to handle the number of cars currently using them and this is why it costs so much to repair and maintain them each and every year. Removing cars and (simultaneously) improving our public mass transit system is in my opinion the only logical way forward for our city. It wouldn’t just be good for the environment, but would be good for our pocket books as well.

In any event, something to think about. Please comment!