Tramways for Montréal? [Updated]

Over at spacing, there’s an article about the proposed return of streetcars to Montréal.  Nothing on the grand scheme of Transit City, but a first step.  Let’s hope Toronto manages to build something of their new network rather than spending endless years on studies.

Update:  Bryan Adare sent in a comment pointing out that a lot of the design in the study documents (linked from the first comment to this post) looks much more like ICTS technology than LRT.  Oddly, examples cited of working systems go all the way from full-blown grade-separated automatic ICTS systems down to true LRT lines like the Minneapolis Hiawatha line.  One wonders whether the authors of the study entirely understand what they are talking about.

If you compare the description of the line in La Presse to the one in the study, it is clear that there are two separate schemes here:

  • one is for an ICTS Mark-II high capacity line south across the St. Lawrence to address congestion on the Champlain Bridge, and
  • the other for a true LRT line linking downtown with Old Montréal.

Unfortunately, Montréal seems to have a common problem with Toronto:  people use the term “LRT” interchangeably for both modes when ICTS is quite bluntly not LRT because it require a completely dedicated right-of-way.

15 thoughts on “Tramways for Montréal? [Updated]

  1. Streetcars are making a comeback in North America. Portland just rebuilt it’s Streetcar Network. Vancouver is trying to get one built for the Olympics. Calgary is flirting with the idea.

    It really did help when Calgary and Edmonton decided to build LRT.


  2. Aman:

    Nothing against Calgary and Edmonton, but I think the ball started rolling in Montreal when they saw that Paris had done it.

    If it’s chic enough for Paris…and goodness knows it will likely be built before Transit City even has spades in the ground.


  3. ‘Chic’ was the same argument in 1959 when the Tramway system was abandoned. If Gay Paree didn’t need trams then Montreal needed to make itself as up to date as the ‘Capital’! Also, if Paris can have rubber tired subway trains, why shouldn’t that inappropriate technology come to the Paris of the West too, eh? Shouldn’t go there I guess!

    It will be interesting to see if there are any transit thinkers left in Montreal who can make the LRTs as innovative as their Tramway once was, long before the MUCTC. True they didn’t adopt the PCC, even though they were members of the development organization, but economics rather than necessities dictated that decision, for at the time of PCCs being introduced elsewhere, the Tramways fleet was, on average, about ten years old. It didn’t make sense to start buying into the far more costly new cars yet.

    Hindsight arguments aside, the development of the ‘pay- as-you-enter’ fare collection system, six motor trains, with their efficient crowd swallowing loading setups and the downtown terminals of Craig and Place D’Arms were examples of a streetcar system whose management had the spark to make them leaders in North America. Will we ever see the like again?

    On the flip side, the staid old TTC, in its defence and chagrin, embraced the tried and true for so many years. That eventually it proved their downfall as being the top of NA transit properties, but at the same time, for many years the tried and true helped them be there as the recognized leaders. They were blinkered for so long as to how great the TTC was, they missed the little navigational changes that would have kept the TTC great. Of course the political changes in the TTC, City and Province didn’t help in the overall health of our transit system either. Let’s hope that Toronto’s LRT thinking and your continued sensible proddings Steve, can bring us back to the forefront.


  4. What I meant was that after Calgary, Edmonton and San Diego built LRT, it got the ball rolling for other North American Cities to follow suit.

    I know Montréal got it’s idea from Paris, but they are looking more towards Denver on how to build LRT. Denver’s LRT was inspired by Edmonton, Calgary and San Diego’s LRT.

    All new Rapid Transit Systems in North America, are being built using LRT. Subways seem to be a thing of the past now.


  5. if you read the pdf’s it turns out that this is not an LRT at all and is actually a transit way. The platform heights will be high and the spacing of stations will be far.

    Its interesting to see the the mock up have a car that looks suspiciously like an ICTS Mk II.


  6. I think the distinction is lost on passengers. Is the proposed Eglinton line’s underground section non-LRT because it has a completely separated ROW? Is London’s Dockland Ligt Rail not light rail?

    Steve: The important thing is that the term “LRT” not be abused to dignify something that is not LRT with that name. The line described in the report has fully automated, grade-separated operation, and could never be adapted to a simpler implementation. By definition, it is not LRT. It is intriguing that some of the systems given as examples do not meet the criteria for alternative analysis set out in the report.

    The Docklands operation is not LRT by this definition. It may be a light “subway”, but it’s not LRT. The term “MRT” for “medium rapid transit” is used in some circles to describe this sort of thing.

    ICTS (or whatever anyone calls it) advocates have been trying to bamboozle people into confusing their schemes with true LRT for decades. I am disappointed to see this is happening in our sister city.

    The Eglinton line may be underground in places, but this is a question of space, not a question of technological necessity. For that matter, we had better watch out that the Spadina/Harbourfront line not be confused with a subway! If we’re not careful, York University will want us to extend it!


  7. Aman Hayer said …

    All new Rapid Transit Systems in North America, are being built using LRT. Subways seem to be a thing of the past now.

    Not true — New York City and San Francisco are building new subway lines, and other cities worldwide are building subways too.


  8. Steve, I’m a purist myself when it comes to transit technologies, but I am less concerned with the categorization of the examples cited in the AMT report because at the end of the day, nobody will confuse these with the bus, the metro, or the commuter rail in Montreal. Whether or not the AMT’s LRT has fully-exclusive ROW or partially exclusive ROW or a combination of both, capacity-wise they would all be lower than the metro, hence in that sense they are all “light rail”.

    It’s interesting to see that the AMT has developed a much more detailed concept for the Brossard-downtown LRT across the St. Lawrence compared to what was studied by the Roger Nicolet Commission years ago. The Nicolet report (using the same alignment shown in the current AMT report) concluded that a LRT across the ice boom adjacent to the Champlain Bridge was too expensive and wouldn’t solve congestion on the bridge. We thought that report had put the Brossard-downtown LRT debate to rest – my classmates and I were given an assignment to critique it and our prof brought Roger Nicolet to our class to talk and answer our questions. Now it’s great to see that the LRT is being given a more serious look and back in the discussions again.

    The congestions at TCV are a mess. During morning rush hours, buses from the South Shore and beyond would line up in the bus lane all the way from the TCV entrance on rue Mansfield to as far south as the autoroute Bonaventure off ramp at Duke and Wellington. Inside the TCV, the concourses and the corridors are always jam packed with passengers waiting in lines. Figure 1 in the AMT report only shows one of the concourses – you should see how bad it is in the other concourse and corridors.

    I’m curious to see how the AMT plans to utilize Chevrier in Brossard. Right now it’s a giant park’n ride lot off autoroute 10 serving the Express 90 bus. It’d be interesting to see how the AMT plans to turn it into a LRT terminus and how it would tie into RTL bus routes.


  9. ICTS (now Advanced Rapid Transit) is a heavy rail metro technology. It is not “light” at all because it requires a fully separated right-of-way and it is capable of high frequency service and full underground running like a metro. I suspect that the cost of ICTS and subway is very similar given the type of construction (elevated, at grade but grade separated or underground) and the platform length. It is only called “light” or “intermediate capacity” because it has been marketed as such and because all existing installations are mostly elevated.


  10. Well, the Canada Line in Vancouver is costing $1.9 billion for 19 km of track, most of it underground, for a cost of $100 million/km and it’s apparently going to use ITCS style cars. That’s significantly cheaper than the York U subway extension on a per km basis.

    Steve: The issue here is to look at where the line is built (what are the impacts of utilities, how deep is the tunnel, does it go under buildings or across fields) and also how large the stations are. Both of these can have a huge impact on the total cost.

    The interesting thing about the Canada Line is that the public sector is only putting up $1.2 billion, with the private sector putting up the rest. What do you think about getting the private sector involved in rapid transit construction, Steve?

    Steve: The question is what is meant by “private sector involvement”. Generally in schemes like this, all that happens is that governments shift large debts off of their own books and onto the private lender who is instead called a shareholder. The private sector expects a return on their investment and this comes in the form of rent or some other usage fee for the system of which they are co-owner. Moreover, depending on how the deal is structured, the private partner may have tax advantages that cause indirect subsidy via the taxation system that are not available to public sector “investors”.

    A classic private sector involvement is Highway 407. The private owner has the right to raise tolls whenever they want, and they have the power of the Ontario government’s licensing machinery to enforce payment. This is a no-brainer for any investor — guaranteed return, no review of increasing the revenue stream and the government as your collection agency.

    When I see a “private partner” actually take some risk up to and including going bankrupt with the asset defaulting back to the public sector, then I will believe that private sector involvement isn’t just code for corporate welfare and creative public sector accounting.


  11. Mimmo Briganti said …

    Not true — New York City and San Francisco are building new subway lines, and other cities worldwide are building subways too.

    They are upgrading their current subway systems. They are not building a new system from scratch.


  12. @12 Chris – the Canada Line is not Skytrain/ICTS – the vehicles are being built by ROTEM of Korea, don’t use linear induction and are longer and wider.

    Steve: It’s ironic that Vancouver is building an automated line that doesn’t use ICTS technology, and is also working on a standard LRT line. Slowly they are getting the message. The ICTS did wonderful things in a specific setting — the constrained CPR tunnel under downtown, and the need to run a complex, frequent shuttle between two Expo sites in the middle of regular service. This confluence of circumstances rarely happens.


  13. Thanks, Mark. It’s kind of unclear from the Canada Line website what vehicles will actually be used on the line.

    The problem with Vancouver using 3 different kinds of rapid transit is the need to have experts in 3 different kinds of maintenance as well as stock replacement parts for 3 different kinds of vehicles. The above is used as justification for the increasingly homogeneous nature of today’s transit fleets.

    What is really interesting is that in a span of 24 years, from 1986-2010, Vancouver will have opened 3 rapid transit lines which will have the majority of the huge service area within a 20 minute bus ride of rapid transit, while in the same time frame Toronto has succeeded in opening one subway stub line. Even more, Vancouver will be two lines from arguably completing its entire rapid transit network – an inexpensive LRT line to Coquitlam and an expensive but well utilized (probably Skytrain) line under Broadway.

    I think the difference to a large extent lies in the fact that all of Vancouver area transportation is under
    the purvue of Translink, while greater Toronto suffers under its hodgepodge of providers.


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