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'Is it going to be working tomorrow?': Montreal's new REM had 41 service interruptions since it opened

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There was another service interruption Wednesday morning on Montreal's new Réseau express métropolitain (REM) — the fourth breakdown on the light-rail line in three days.

The service issues are leaving some riders questioning how reliable the REM is. 

Data compiled by CTV News shows that, since it opened at the end of July, there have been 41 service interruptions.

Riders of the driverless REM line say the service is wonderful — when it's working.

But on Monday, Taissia Philipovich was stuck inside a train near the Panama station for 40 minutes during a service interruption.

"We don't get any information except the same reoccuring news that service is shut down, please take a shuttle. Which is great, but how do we get out of the wagon?" she said in an interview Wednesday.

"People are calling family, people are looking online, offline, is the service coming? Sadly, some lady fainted."

Emergency crews came to assist the passenger, she said, but as for the other passengers in the packed REM car: "We had to walk on the little pathway to get to Panama [station]," she recounted, adding that her hour-and-a-half commute home to Chambly doubled.

Data compiled by CTV News shows Montreal's new REM has experienced 41 service interruptions since it opened on July 31, 2023. (CTV News)

Katherine Kouidis was also stuck in a train twice on the same day on Monday.

"I was late in the morning because we were stuck on the tracks for 15 minutes and then there was a longer delay in the evening," she told CTV News.

There were also outages on Tuesday morning after a piece of maintenance equipment got stuck. Photos shared on social media show passengers stuck on stopped trains in between stations.

Other passengers posted photos of them walking along the tracks to a nearby station during a breakdown.  

HALF OF SERVICE ISSUES DURING RUSH HOUR

Out of the 95 days the REM has been open, there have been 41 service interruptions, according to data posted on the REM's official service status profile on X, formerly known as Twitter.

There are some days with more than one interruption, but when they are spread out over the course of the time the REM has been open, that would be 45 per cent of days with an interruption.

Half of the service interruptions happened during rush hour, according to the data. (CTV News)

Nearly half of the service issues happened during rush hour.

"The reliability of the system is a big question mark," said traffic analyst Rick Leckner.

Most of the interruptions are slowdowns, but nearly a quarter are a line shutting down.

CDPQ Infra, which operates the REM, didn't respond to a request from CTV News as to why there have been so many interruptions.

Leckner, a longtime traffic watchdog, said the three-month-old system still has some bugs.

"The big difference is the REM is completely run by computers. There are no operators, so the system obviously is extremely sensitive. Any software or system glitch is creating the interruptions we're seeing," he said.

During the same time period, the Metro had 50 service interruptions, but it covers 69.2 kilometers. The first portion of the REM line covers just under 16 kilometres.

The issues are raising doubts about the reliability of the $8 billion light-rail project.

"There's no other option, there's no trains departing from Bonaventure anymore so we're only relying on the REM," Kouidis said.

Philipovich said her main concern is: "Is it going to be working tomorrow?"

With 41 interruptions for a system that's less than six months old, the other big question on their minds is how well the REM will perform in its first winter.

MORE INTERRUPTIONS EXPECTED: CDPQ INFRA

Philippe Batani, vice-president of public affairs at CDPQ Infra, said earlier this week that the REM was still in a "breaking-in" period but acknowledged that communications with passengers need to improve when interruptions happen.

"It is probable that we will see other interruptions in the future. This is part of the normal operations of a system," Batani said in an interview with CTV News on Tuesday.

"We have different factors that can impact the system. We try to minimize them as much as we can. We try to minimize the time of these interruptions and we try to inform the users that have been challenged these past few days, but we are working closely with our partners to make sure that plans are in place to improve operations and communications with the users."

It's not only passengers who appear to be frustrated with the service they're getting.

The South Shore mayor of Brossard, which is home to three of the five REM stations currently in operation, said in a statement on Tuesday that she was "disappointed" that these issues keep happening.

Mayor Doreen Assaad called on Quebec's transport minister, Geneviève Guilbault, to demand the REM operator create a communication plan for passengers during a breakdown "and above all to enforce it."

"We were accommodating for the first three months of operation, but now I expect to see an improvement in service reliability and customer experience," wrote Assaad in the statement published on her Facebook page.

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