The Metropolitan Express Network (REM) was faced with a breakdown during an episode of freezing rain in early January on the South Shore, as part of tests carried out in “extreme conditions”, learned The Press. For CDPQ Infra, the situation illustrates that the postponement to spring 2023 was the right decision, the time to collect more data on wagons pushed “to their limit”.
It all happened on January 5th. That day, an REM car was deployed on the route without first activating the protocol related to ice and winter weather. In other words, the wagons were put into service without scrapers, which allow the moving catenaries to be de-iced.
Result: the REM managed to cross the Samuel-De Champlain bridge, but stopped just after, not far from the Costco warehouse. The car had “lost contact” with the catenary, this set of wires which supplies the cars with electricity. A mitigation plan was then deployed to bring the wagons back to Central Station.
Such an operation “is part of the good test practices aimed at pushing the system and the cars to their limit”, however assures the director of communications of CDPQ Infra, Jean-Vincent Lacroix.
Situations like that, in extreme conditions, we provoke them to have all the data before commissioning.
Jean-Vincent Lacroix, Communications Director of CDPQ Infra
Mr. Lacroix affirms that the level of automation of the REM “GOA4”, i.e. a full level of automation without personnel on board, “allows the deployment of the icebreaking protocol in an automated manner 24 hours a day, even at ‘outside standard operating hours, unlike Ottawa’, where drivers must be available outside of operating hours.
A broader “contingency plan” is nevertheless in place in the event of a winter outage, was able to confirm The Press. This plan would involve all transit companies in the city, in order to redirect REM users to other systems. Spring 2023 remains the timeline for full commissioning.
“There will be breakdowns in winter”
For many, the situation illustrates that the challenge of running the network without interruptions next winter will be great. Transport planning expert at the University of Montreal Pierre Barrieau also says that this first incident confirms that CDPQ Infra was “right” to postpone the commissioning of the network.
However, he hopes that all available technologies will be used and studied. “We are able to vibrate the wires so that it doesn’t freeze, or spray with an antifreeze liquid solution. And above all, you should never stop the service, because with each passage, it pushes the ice, the frost and the snow”, he evokes in particular.
The president of Trajectoire Québec, Sarah V. Doyon, is categorical. “Winter breakdowns, there will be, as in all systems in the world. It’s part of the game. What you have to make sure is to have a system around it that holds up, ”she insists.
“It worries me that when the REM is deployed, the Réseau de transport de Longueuil (RTL) will also set up a revised network. If there are a lot of failures, we risk taking these redeployed buses for the benefit of the mitigation measures. Somewhere, we would shoot ourselves in the foot. The reliability of one will impact the reliability of the other. And if we have several breakdowns, we risk losing users, ”she notes.
Former member of the committee of experts on the Eastern REM, the general manager of Vivre en ville, Christian Savard, agrees.
“There will be some breakdowns at the start. But in our case, everything is more integrated than in Ottawa, where rolling stock and infrastructure suppliers are separate. Here, the REM also sits somewhere between Ottawa technology and heavy rail. In theory, its catenaries are not as light as in Ottawa. We can thus expect greater resilience, ”he reasons.
In Ottawa, closures
In the federal capital, commuters boarding the “O-Train” to get to work discovered on Monday morning that part of this light transport line was closed, while repairs continued after the storm of freezing rain last week.
OC Transpo, the region’s operator, said last Wednesday night’s storm damaged overhead lines and left a number of trains stranded on the tracks for days. Two of the trains were cleared on Sunday evening, but the tracks were still closed at the start of the week.
The general manager of Ottawa Transit Services and former Société de transport de Montréal (STM) Renée Amilcar announced that additional buses were running Monday morning to bring people from the eastern part of Ottawa to downtown.
Soon a new project
The new route of the REM de l’Est – without access to the city center and now piloted by the Autorité régionale de transport métropolitain (ARTM), Montreal and Quebec – must also be presented in early 2023.
The City still favors keeping a good part of the structure in aerial mode, with a “harmonious integration” in certain neighborhoods such as Mercier-Est.
In mid-December, the ARTM awarded two contracts totaling $38 million to the engineering firm CIMA+. The first, worth 3.3 million, concerns “the analysis of studies already produced and transmitted” by CDPQ Infra to the new working group.
A second, larger contract, valued at $34.7 million, concerns analyzes for several other public transit projects, including the implementation of a structuring mode in the Greater Southwest of Montreal.
Daniel Chartier, vice-president of the Collectif en environnement de Mercier-Est, however deplores the lack of transparency surrounding the discussions. “There are studies, but at the same time, we are sending signals in the public square in several ways that the choice of air travel has already been made. We were promised studies on each of the options, routes, ”he denounces.
With Maxime Bergeron, The Pressand The Canadian Press