Modern model arrives after lengthy delays
After years in production and months of delays, Montrealers finally got to step inside the long-promised AZUR métro train for the first time this weekend.
The test train was brought into service Feb. 7 at the Henri-Bourassa station with long-anticipated applause from STM staff. For at least 61 days, the all-electric train will be serving commuters on the Orange line as part of its final round of testing. If all goes well, then the STM will move forward with the delivery of the remaining 51 trains through to 2018.
The testing period is aimed at confirming that the new train systems can handle day-to-day operations with passengers. This includes when doors are blocked or emergency intercoms are used, which are difficult to test without public engagement.
The trains boast a number of improvements including larger doors for ease of entry, better suspension, and increased capacity. Other features include armrests at certain seats, screens with bus information and upcoming stations, and vents designed for air circulation that offer a cool breeze at high speeds. The train has no divisions between cars, allowing passengers to move freely across the train.
The Quebec government paid 75 per cent of the costs associated with the AZUR project, a sum of $1.8 billion—a price tag Quebec Transportation Minister Jacques Daoust says is well worth the benefits.
“The engine of the economy in Quebec is Montreal,” said Daoust. “We have to make sure that mobility is easy in Montreal… it’s not an expense, it’s an investment.” The remaining 25 per cent ($600 million) was paid by the City of Montreal.
The introduction of the AZUR coincided with the 50th anniversary of the métro system—symbolism that was not lost on Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre. “I’m very proud to be a Montrealer, like my predecessor 50 years ago on his first trip in the métro,” said Coderre. “Now we have our first trip with AZUR. I feel great.”
But “great” is not used to describe the timeline of the AZUR trains, which was plagued by delays. The trains were initially planned to come into service in late 2014 but métro tunnels had to be widened to accommodate the new model, and the first cars were delivered months behind schedule. In 2015, software delays caused further setbacks, leading Bombardier to halt production until last October.
Some feel like they’ve waited long enough. “I like [the new train], I think it’s really nice and modern—I also think it’s really late,” said Michael Piovesana, a student at McGill who entered the métro specifically to ride on the first AZUR. “These trains were supposed to be running in 2014, now it’s 2016. But it’s nice to see them.”
Those hoping to see a new AZUR train pull into Guy-Concordia should not expect much: the Green line’s MR-63s will be replaced with the Orange line’s newer (but similar) MR-73s. While trains tend to move between lines occasionally, overall the AZUR will be running exclusively on the Orange line.
The Chairman of the STM Board of Directors Philippe Schnobb explained that bringing AZUR to the Green line was not financially viable. “The decision has been made to keep our trains from the 70s for another period of time,” explained Schnobb. “They’re so reliable that there’s no need to invest a billion just to replace them. It wouldn’t be a good investment to change the trains for the sake of changing the trains.”
During the 61-day testing period, a second AZUR train will continue to undergo after-hours testing to ensure compatibility on the Green, Yellow and Blue lines. The STM warns that commuters may potentially encounter delays, but notes that the AZUR has systems designed to alert the operator before it is forced to make a stop, which should allow for maintenance at a terminus without interrupting operations. A dedicated crew will be monitoring the single AZUR train in daily service “for the slightest fluctuations in its systems.”