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Hit with delays and possible lightning, it was an eventful first week for the REM

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Montreal's new light-rail train (REM) has had an eventful first week, marked by three service interruptions, a possible lightning strike, passengers mistakenly taken to the garage and the service's absence on the Google Maps platform.

Despite these hitches, Trajectoire Québec, an association that defends public transit users, is giving a positive assessment of the system's launch between Montreal and Brossard.

"It's true that there have been a few glitches," admits the association's general manager, Sarah Doyon, in an interview.

"There are things that need to be corrected in the future, particularly in terms of communication. And above all, we need to make sure that no one ends up in the garage again."

She points out that the REM welcomed an average of 25,000 passengers a day in its first week, a figure that comes close to the objective of moving 30,000 people daily.

"While we're in the middle of the construction vacations, we can say that this is an impressive figure."

The REM experienced two breakdowns on Monday, including one during the rush hour. A third breakdown happened Wednesday outside rush hour. Passengers were also mistakenly transported to the garage on Monday evening.

The REM is currently "in a breaking-in phase," reiterates CDPQ Infra's Director of Communications, Jean-Vincent Lacroix.

"We've said it before, but we'll say it again: a network that goes into service anywhere on the planet always has this step to be taken. Obviously, the breaking-in phase means that there may be interruptions," he said.

Doyon believes the REM will have to improve its communication with users in case of a breakdown.

"The STM (Société de transport de Montréal) is a good example. Each of the metro lines has its own Twitter account, and you can follow outages lasting more than five minutes. All breakdowns lasting more than a few minutes need to be communicated to customers so they can find other alternatives."

She also lamented the fact that the REM was not an option in routes proposed by the Google Maps application.

The REM's routes should be visible on Google Maps as early as next week. "It would have been nice if it had been as soon as it went live," she said.

Other applications, such as Transit, have nonetheless proposed routes with the REM as soon as it went live.

"At REM, we are taking into account comments made by users and promise that corrections will be made along the way. We will make adjustments," assures Lacroix. "We've heard comments about signage, for example. We're already in the process of adjusting certain elements, and this will continue. It's all about continuous improvement."

On Thursday night, the sky literally fell on the REM, but the network weathered the storm as expected.

A video circulating online and an observation by CDPQ Infra suggest that the network was struck by lightning.

"After verification, no damage was found," assures Lacroix. "This shows that the network is robust and that the processes in place are working. REM was designed to cope with such events. It's not the first time this situation has arisen. It happened during the dry run, for example."

-This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on August 4, 2023. 

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