REM a significant moment in Montreal’s transit


On October 21st 2018 the Mount Royal tunnel celebrated its 100th anniversary. Over a century later, new trains powered by electricity will soon travel through it, unlike the railway trains those who helped build the tunnel for might have ever imagined. The REM system will become a major part of Montreal’s history and a significant one for public transit – being the largest public transportation infrastructure since the Montreal metro was inaugurated in 1966. Looking back in time offers an interesting perspective of how transit developed in the city. Here is a timeline of important moments, which not only changed how people traveled, but also played an important role in the development of the Greater Montreal area (*Part Two will follow next week):

Montreal Tramway 1957
Tramway 1957 at Place d’Armes – STM Archives

– MONTREAL TRAMWAYS 1861: The very first tramways in Montreal were actually pulled by horses along rails built into the roads. In 1861, the Montreal City Passenger Railway Company (MCPRC), the city’s first public transportation company, built a six mile (10km) network and the first line was put into service on November 27th – along what is still known today as Notre-Dame Street. A few days later, a second line on Saint-Antoine Street was inaugurated. In 1886, the MCPRC was replaced by the Montreal Street Railway Company (MSRC) and on September 21st 1892, the city’s very first electric tramway, nicknamed the ‘Rocket’ (because it reached a speed of up to 30/kmh – then considered very fast) was put into service along St-Antoine Street. At its peak in the early 1920s, the Montreal tramway network comprised over 300 miles (500 km) of tracks and more than 900 tramways carried close to 230 million passengers per year. When buses were introduced in Montreal in 1919, the tramway system faced significant competition. On August 30th 1959, the last tramway was retired – marking the end of an almost 100-year era.

Digging of the Mount-Royal tunnel
Digging of the Mount-Royal tunnel – June 1912 -Archives Ville de Montreal

– MOUNT ROYAL TUNNEL 1912: Construction began on the Mount Royal Tunnel in July of 1912. It was quite an ambitious project and a technical challenge at the time to dig a 5.3 km long and close to 188-metre deep tunnel. Almost 18 months later, the two work crews digging from each end of the tunnel met in the middle and were amazingly off by only less than an inch in alignment and only a quarter inch in depth.

Digging of the Mount-Royal tunnel Workers
Digging of the Mount-Royal tunnel Machine

– MOUNT ROYAL TUNNEL 1918: On October 21st of 1918 the tunnel was completed, with the first train that linked Montreal to Toronto travelling through to the new terminal inside – built to accommodate the three railways using it: the Grand Trunk Railway, the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Canadian Northern Railway.

– CENTRAL STATION 1943: Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) was merged with a number of other railway companies in 1923, forming the Canadian National Railway (CNR). Canadian Northern’s work had an important impact on Montreal’s public transit history – and was the foundation for projects that brought about the Deux-Montagnes rail line and saw the original terminal rebuilt in 1943, becoming what is still known today as the Gare Centrale/Central Station. The Portal Heights station (Deux-Montagnes line) was eventually renamed the Canora station in 1995 as a tribute to Canadian Northern – the name ‘Canora’ formed by syllables taken from ‘CA’nadian ‘NO’rthern ‘RA’ilways. An interesting ‘tidbit’ for those who did not know. *Check back next week for PART TWO: Montreal’s Metro System, REM and the Future!

By: Bonnie Wurst – [email protected]

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