By 2026, we will have deployed a new train control system on the entire Blue line, including its extension toward the east. We have chosen an advanced technology called communications-based train control (CBTC) for the project, the first of its kind in the Montréal métro network!
A vintage system!
The train control technology that we are currently using has become quite a rare breed. Only a handful of other networks in the world use it, including the Marseille métro. Our teams of maintenance experts have kept the system in such good shape that it has beaten records for longevity!
If the métro’s control room is the brain of our underground network, then the train control system is the nervous system. Essentially, it’s the equipment that allows us to control our rail traffic.
The system’s main purpose is to maintain a safe distance between the trains. Devices placed at different points on the tracks and on the train cars themselves detect the location of each train. These devices, along with cabling, wiring and various electronic and digital equipment, make up an inconspicuous yet essential part of métro operations.
The current system is designed around a track circuit and dates back to the 1970s. It uses an electric circuit built into the tracks to detect rail traffic. The track is divided into 50- to 500-metre sections, so the system can only detect trains’ approximate locations.
The biggest advantage of the CBTC system is continuous communication between the trains and the computers that manage rail traffic. This real-time communication via radio waves provides more precise data, enabling quick decision-making adapted to a given situation.
With the current system, the train receives instructions from the track circuit, but it can’t make decisions. Instead, it immediately follows whatever instructions it receives. But CBTC makes the train almost intelligent. This new approach completely changes the train control dynamic from a reactive system to a predictive one. That means that trains will be able to anticipate required actions—slow down, brake, stop, etc. Currently, trains don’t receive those commands until they pass a terminal.
CBTC is already used in many underground and above-ground rail networks around the world, making it a tried and true system. In Canada, CBTC has been implemented in parts of the Toronto and Vancouver rail networks. Thanks to international benchmarks and a culture of sharing between the world’s transit networks, we can benefit from what these other networks have learned and adopt their best practices.
The Blue line extension to the east requires installing a train control system on the new section, and it is impossible to run two different systems on the new and old sections. Since the current technology is becoming obsolete, CBTC will allow us to keep our network reliable in the long term.
Train control is an indispensable component of any metro network. While this technological update is, first and foremost, an investment in our future, it will also come with certain advantages.
- The new system will ensure that our network remains viable for decades to come. Even though our current system is still reliable, we know this is the right time to take this step, as a project of this magnitude will take several years to plan and execute.
- Service reliability will also be improved because we will know the exact location of each train, and operators will know exactly when to leave the station.
- We will be able to diagnose certain on-board problems remotely. Trains needing repairs will spend less time in the shop and more time serving our customers.
- CBTC will significantly reduce service disruptions caused by broken train control equipment. Most of the new parts will be redundant (doubled up) to ensure continued functioning even if they are damaged. Although this type of service disruption only accounts for a small percentage of total service disruptions (less than 10%), the benefit is undeniable.
- For customers, the most noticeable advantage will be predictive braking. Have you ever felt a jolt as your train approaches the end of a line? That’s because trains have to reduce their speed at terminals. The jolt happens when the train receives a new command telling it to slow down at a specific point on the track. Trains cannot anticipate when they will have to slow down, but they will be able to with CBTC. With predictive braking, you can look forward to more comfortable métro trips!
For now, we are planning to work on the tracks only at night. However, since this only provides a short window of time to get things done, it is likely that we will have to interrupt métro service at certain times, for example in the late evening or on the weekend. If this is the case, we will provide a bus shuttle service for affected customers. Any potential impact on service would not occur before 2024, and we will let you know in advance.
Beginning in 2021, we will be expanding and adapting some mechanical rooms near the platforms to get them ready for the new equipment. We will make sure that this preparatory work is done transparently for customers.
We are still conducting studies to determine whether to use MR-73 or Azur trains on the extended Blue line.
We are not currently considering this.
Eventually, we are planning to equip our other three métro lines with CBTC technology. However, this type of project requires a major financial investment, so we haven’t set a timeframe yet.
This project was made possible by funding from the governments of Canada and Quebec through the implementation of the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund.