RTM reassures commuters as winter wreaks havoc on Montreal’s suburban train lines
Commuters stuck in immobile trains just metres from their downtown terminus, unable to disembark for more than 40 minutes.
Commuters standing on platforms in the minus-20 C chill, unable to board because the trains that arrived were eight cars long instead of the usual 10, and already packed full.
Commuters crammed in like sardines wearing winter coats, standing and sweltering for more than an hour on their way to work.
These were among the complaints registered Monday and last week by regular users of Montreal’s suburban train lines who are growing increasingly disgruntled with repeated delays and difficulties in their daily voyage. Many are already demanding partial refunds.
Service has been so bad of late, Montreal’s regional transit authority made the rare move of issuing a blanket explanation to all its customers Monday afternoon, if not an apology.
“Dear Commuter Train Users,” begins the message from Stéphane Lapierre, executive director of operations for the Réseau de transport métropolitain, sent to local newsrooms. “It has been a trying start to the year for our commuter train network, mainly because of the extreme weather conditions we are currently experiencing. We are well aware that this situation has had impacts on your daily routine and be assured that we are doing everything we can to improve matters.”
Extreme temperature changes and strong winds have strained the RTM’s railway structures and those maintained by their owners, CN and CP, Lapierre said. Many of the railway’s switches, which shift trains from one set of tracks to another, are heated but have frozen and malfunctioned because winds have repeatedly covered them with snow after maintenance crews uncovered them. Crews are often forced to dislodge the switches manually, a process that takes 20 minutes and causes backups on the lines.
Several commuters were stuck in their trains for almost half an hour just a few metres from the downtown Lucien L’Allier terminus Monday because of the track-switching problems. The issues caused delays on the St-Jérôme, Candiac and Vaudreuil-Hudson lines. The Deux-Montagnes line also suffered numerous delays, which means four of the RMT’s five lines were problem-plagued Monday.
The Réseau de transport métropolitain announced at 8:20 a.m. that because of the issues, no trains could access the Lucien L’Allier station, creating a traffic jam for the three commuter lines in the middle of morning rush hour. Some trains were nearly an hour behind schedule. Snow and winds also caused issues with signalling systems, leading to delays.
Several issues with the train lines were reported last week as well, including melting snow that leaked into propulsion boxes and necessitated removing trains from the lines, electrical problems that stopped heating and doors from working, and a truck running into a train barrier in Montreal West that caused a 30-minute delay on three lines during Tuesday morning’s rush hour.
John Hansen was taking the Deux-Montagnes line in from the West Island last Thursday when his train had to stop for 30 minutes in the tunnel. On the way home it was worse — they cancelled the train and he had to take the métro and bus back to Dollard-des-Ormeaux. On Monday, he took an earlier train home to avoid delays and cramped quarters.
“It seems like there are issues every day. I guess maybe they’re not prepared,” Hansen said. “Maybe the winters are a little bit harsher than we expect them to be, but they’ve been running these lines for a few years now, so I would assume they would expect this stuff.”
J.F. Prieur has been using the Deux-Montagnes train line for 20 years, normally happily. But this season has been the worst ever, he said.
“With the weather, I can understand. But I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “They should think about giving a week refund on the Opus pass.”
The RTM says it is ensuring its “winter action plan is executed properly” by adding additional crews and conducting more tests and maintenance measures.
Regular users who have weathered numerous delays during past winters as well as problems caused by maintenance issues conducted by CP, electrical malfunctions and repeated headaches related to track switches can be forgiven for viewing their future commutes with a certain amount of foreboding.
In 2015, figures from the regional transit agency showed that one out of every five trains was delayed or cancelled on the Mascouche, Vaudreuil-Hudson and Deux-Montagnes lines during the first three weeks of February.