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Friday, November 02, 2012

Une Visite à Montréal - 1: AMT

Last month, I was finally able to visit Montreal thanks to a VIA Rail seat sale.  Montreal is the largest city in Quebec and the business centre for the province.  It feels like a hybrid of North America and Europe, with big cars, skyscrapers, little cafés and high fashion all in one place.  While it was a very rushed visit, I really enjoyed my time there and I will certainly be going back.

Montreal is also an important railway location in Canada.  CN's headquarters is right on top of the Gare Centrale, VIA's main offices are also in town and it is CP's eastern terminus.  It was only logical then that railways made up a large part of my trip.

With such a big and busy city, commuter rail is an excellent way for people to get around.  The Agence Métropolitaine de Transport (AMT) is Montreal's commuter train operator.  Their rolling stock is very much as GO Transit's was a generation ago: a mix of locomotives and coaches cobbled together to boost capacity.  Of particular interest is AMT's new fleet of Bombardier bi-level coaches.  Unlike the ones designed for GO, these do not have a mezzanine level.  The AMT coaches also have two sets of doors at different heights, one low set for ground-level platforms and one higher set for the European-style high platforms at stations such as Gare Centrale.  This makes for a versatile fleet that can operate on any route.

Montreal is also unique for having the only electrified rail lines in Canada.  The Deux-Montagnes route still operates using electric trains, like this one I photographed on the approach to Gare Centrale.

 
An AMT electric commuter train at Gare Centrale

AMT also has some modern diesel locomotives in its fleet, such as F59PHI #1330 seen arriving at Lucien L'allier station, the terminus for most of AMT's routes.  The station is part of the large Centre Bell, home of the Montreal Canadiens.

 
AMT 1330 at Lucien L'allier

Like many railways, AMT struggles to have enough equipment to meet demand.  As GO Transit retired most of its F59 locomotives, AMT bought or leased many of them for use in Montreal.  Here is former GO Transit #521, now renumbered RBRX 18521, with an AMT train at Lucien L'allier.  It was nice to see a familiar locomotive.

Once GO Transit, 18521 is now leased to AMT

I was also able to ride one of the AMT trains.  It was very much like riding a GO train, except that the announcements were in French and AMT no longer issue any paper tickets - even a single ride ticket is now a one-use smartcard.  Having seen AMT, I have now seen 2/3 commuter rail lines in Canada, but I doubt I will be getting to Vancouver any time soon!

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