Mission Impossible: Montreal’s new light-rail train traps users in railway garage

Click to play video: 'Commuters feeling let down after another REM service interruption – this time late at night'
Commuters feeling let down after another REM service interruption – this time late at night
WATCH: Service on Montreal’s new REM suburban train across the Champlain Bridge was shut down again around 11 pm on Monday. Commuters say they knew to expect some problems even on Day One. But as Global’s Phil Carpenter reports, they say the shutdown was poorly handled, leaving people in the dark – Aug 1, 2023

Michel-Andre Grégoire’s plan to ride Montreal’s new light-rail train Monday night to the cinema for the new “Mission: Impossible” movie turned into an adventure of its own.

Grégoire, his wife and a tourist from South America ended up trapped in the rail network’s garage after the driverless train unexpectedly drove backward from a station on Montreal’s South Shore instead of across a bridge toward the city’s downtown Central Station.

They were eventually driven home by staff of the Réseau express métropolitain, the new rail network known as the REM.

“No harm was done, they were responsible, as soon as we got in touch with someone, everything went fine,” Grégoire said in an interview Wednesday. “They did apologize.”

The experience by Grégoire, his wife and the Venezuelan tourist, whom they didn’t know, was one of a handful of mishaps that have occurred on the network since opening day on Monday. There have already been three service disruptions in as many days since the network started taking on paying customers.

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Officials have said disruptions are to be expected as the system gets up and running.

Grégoire and his wife took the REM from their home on Nuns’ Island to the movie theatre at the DIX30 mall in Brossard, Que., on Montreal’s South Shore. After watching the latest Tom Cruise flick — Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One — they got into a REM train around midnight but found users milling about and the train idling with open doors. No one seemed to know what was happening, Grégoire said, adding that no staff was present.

He said that while many users got fed up and left, he and his wife stayed aboard, along with the tourist, who was trying to return to Montreal. Finally they heard a message the train was headed back toward the city.

“So everything was fine with the door closed and instead of going forward, we started to go backwards,” Grégoire said.

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The train travelled away from Montreal, ending up at a garage, past the terminal, where trains are parked overnight.

“The train shut down, the lights were dim and then we were looking around, there was no way out and we could see all the trains around us, so that was kind of spooky,” Grégoire said, adding that the tourist from Venezuela, who spoke neither English nor French, was concerned.

Grégoire’s wife used the train’s intercom system to tell security that they were trapped, and after 10 minutes stuck in the garage, an operator arranged to have the driverless train return to the Brossard station, where they were picked up by REM staff and driven home.

Grégoire said he’ll hold off using the train for now.

“Two hours on the REM versus four minutes in the car, I’ll use my car next time, that’s for sure,” Grégoire said.

“But I understand that it’s new and they have adjustments to make.”

In an emailed statement, CDPQ Infra spokesman Marc-Andre Tremblay said the users were at all times safe inside the train.

“As soon as our operators spotted the passengers, they were taken care of immediately and brought back to their destination,” Tremblay said.

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“The team on the ground is confident that such an event is exceptional and will not happen again.”

The system has had a handful of delays since opening day. On Wednesday morning, officials said a computer problem at the control centre led to a 30-minute delay at 5:30 a.m., when the first trains of the day were scheduled to run. The rail network, owned and managed by a subsidiary of Quebec’s public pension fund, was forced to deploy shuttle buses to ferry commuters between Montreal’s Central Station and the city’s South Shore.

The light rail, known as the REM, shut down twice on Monday, the first official day of service for paying commuters. Track switch problems caused a 75-minute delay at the height of the morning commute, and again around 11 p.m.

The plan is for trains to run 20 hours a day, seven days a week with service every three minutes and 45 seconds during peak hours, transporting commuters from Brossard to downtown Montreal in as little as 18 minutes. The first five stations of the 26-station, 67-kilometre electric rail network opened this week, eight years after the project was conceived.

The majority of the REM will open late next year, with an airport link to come in 2027.

The project’s current price tag is about $7 billion.

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