Montreal has been experiencing some of the harshest winter conditions on record lately. In fact, last January we had the coldest temperatures recorded in almost 100 years, with a daytime high on the 20th of only minus 19.4 Celsius, accompanied by close to 30cm of snow. Last January also broke records for rain, which in turn left the city with thick, dangerous and slippery conditions as the temperatures plummeted – conditions even the best of machinery available could not deal with. And it is quite possible the city and surrounding areas will see even more records broken in the years to come. It begs the question many people are asking: How will the REM network and trains be able to deal with the realities of our winters?
REM dealing with harsh Montreal winter
Last February in Ottawa, trains for their light-rail network, built by Alstom (the French company also manufacturing the REM trains for Montreal), were being tested and ran into challenges during a snowstorm. A train was stuck in the snow between stations for two days. A report obtained by CBC Ottawa stated that ‘the vehicles are unreliable to the point where it is not known if they would be able to function during a snow storm’ and it went on to explain that ‘snow build up is causing panels to come loose and break off the light-rail vehicles and that snow and ice are frequently causing the doors of the trains to freeze shut’. Their trains appear unable to handle winter conditions. However, there is one big difference – Montreal’s REM trains, the Alstom 212, will be customized to meet its unique climate.
REM designed to handle Montreal winters
They will have heated double-paned windows and door thresholds – and heated floors to ensure doors can open and close in cold weather and snow. They will also be equipped with ice scrapers at the contact points where the trains connect to overhead electrical wires and have heated automatic couplers at each end. The trains are also ergonomically designed to avoid snow pile-ups on both ends of each car – and will also be tested next winter in the South Shore and a cold chamber in Austria.
As the REM states on their website, harsh winter conditions represent a significant challenge for any train or light rail system operator. For the purpose of the REM’s winter plan, specialized equipment will be used for maintenance and a dedicated field team will make sure the system runs smoothly. Since trains will be running regularly over the tracks, it will help prevent ice and snow from accumulating as it would on a highway. In exceptional cases, it will be possible to keep the REM running through the night, to prevent precipitation from accumulating on the track and ‘catenary’ (the cables and wires that hang over electrified rail-lines providing current to the train). As well, the high frequency of trains running on the tracks will allow them to monitor the system at all times, giving them the ability to quickly address any issues that might arise.
The REM is applying the latest in advanced technology, utilizing everything available to circumvent the potential challenges the system (alternating between underground, ground and elevated stretches) can offer. If they can handle a Montreal winter with success, perhaps comparable solutions can be found for the city’s sidewalks and road network – making the cold season far more welcome to pedestrians and drivers.