New fully-automated REM cars revealed after long year

The metropolitan express network (REM) cars were revealed Monday morning at the newly constructed maintenance centre in Brossard.

The network is expected to begin its trial run in the South Shore in the next few weeks, with additional expansions to follow as facilities finish construction over the next 18 months.

The network is a step up for public transport in the Greater Montreal Area. Fully automated and designed for comfort in winter, the new cars will be extensively tested over the course of 13 months to see how they fare in each season.

The cars are fully automated, directed from a command centre, and will feature heated floors and doors. The city has also anticipated the ice that tends to slow down transport every year and has ensured that the cars’ mechanisms and windows are ice-proof. 

“Light, gracious, spacious and quick,” was how Macky Tall, president of the CDPQ’s infrastructure and construction arm, described the new cars.

The REM uses Alston Metropolis cars, which fields more than 5,000 models in cities around the world. They are networked through a system that will ensure frequent convoys – two-and-a-half to five minutes apart – and will be able to adjust to riders’ needs during special events.

Almost three metres wide and four metres high, the city plans to arrange convoys of four cars during peak traffic hours (each measuring more than 75 metres) and two cars at other times to save power. A REM car will seat 128 people and will be able to accommodate up to 780 riders.

During the online announcement, speakers highlighted the benefits they hope the new transport system will bring to the city as well as the unexpected difficulties the project faced. 

“Few projects achieve as much in two years,” said Charles Aimont, president of Quebec’s public pension bank (CDPQ). 

Speaking about the investment made in the REM, Aimont emphasized that the network brought about the creation of more than 34,000 jobs during construction, $2 billion in salaries for employees, and more than 1,000 permanent new jobs.

But the achievement did not come easily. Unexpected difficulties, such as safety challenges in tunnels under construction, added to the COVID-19 pandemic and complicated the work.

As the project draws to a close, however, Montreal city officials are mindful of the impact the final steps could have on riders of existing public transport. 

“Rest assured that we are following the situation very closely,” said Chantal Rouleau, deputy minister of transport and minister for the region of Montreal. “We are making every effort to minimize the impact on current users.”

“Mitigating measures will last until the network can be completely put into service,” Rouleau added. 

Rouleau also emphasized the importance of the project’s accessibility features, saying that it would be “universally accessible.” All 26 REM stations will be equipped with elevators, and eight spaces will be available for individuals with impaired mobility or people with strollers or bikes in each convoy. 

CDPQ also made sure the colours used in the cars would be easily identifiable for people with visual difficulties, so as to clearly mark things such as door thresholds. 

Speaking at the end of the presentation, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said that the REM will be a leap forward for many Quebecers in the region of Montreal. She compared it to the inauguration of the Montreal Metro in 1966, saying that the REM would do as much, if not more, for Quebecers.

“Any mayor will tell you that one of our main preoccupation is to allow the most amount of people to move in the quickest and most efficient way possible,” Plante said. “And, to be frank, the way to do it is with large-scale public transport like the REM.”

The network is expected to finish construction and be put into place in the next 18 months. The first four cars arrived in Brossard last month, with many more to come.

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