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Montreal metro: 'The quietest system in the world'

They could zoom through underground tunnels at high speeds, transporting passengers to their destinations comfortably and efficiently. Canada's two new subways were considered marvellous feats of modern engineering in the 1950s and '60s. As the decades passed, Toronto's subway and Montreal's metro became more than just technological marvels — they were also places for people to meet, musicians to perform and artists to display their work.

Reporting from the opening ceremonies of the Montreal metro, CBC reporter Alan Yates boasts that this is "the quietest system in the world" because it's the first subway ever to run entirely on rubber tires. And this isn't the only thing that distinguishes Montreal's system from other subways. Montrealers can't help but compare their own new underground system with others...especially Toronto's subway, which opened 12 years earlier.

According to Yates, Montreal's stations are more aesthetically pleasing than Toronto's, its subway lines cover more ground and the system was built faster than Toronto's initial line -- mainly because Montreal had the incentive of Expo 67 as a deadline.
• Montreal's metro was the first subway system in the world to run completely on rubber tires (inflated with nitrogen), as opposed to steel wheels on rail. There are several advantages to rubber-tired systems: they're quieter, they accelerate faster and they're able to climb or descend steeper slopes than conventional rail subways. There are disadvantages to this technology as well: rubber tires produce more friction than steel wheels on rail, for instance, so they consume more energy.

• The Paris metro first introduced the idea of using rubber tires — Paris began using the technology in parts of its system in the 1950s. Montreal metro engineers consulted extensively with Parisian metro engineers.
• A rubber-tired system wouldn't work properly outdoors in a cold, icy climate. Montreal's metro was therefore built entirely underground. This was another major reason for the cancellation of the above-ground Line 3.

• A special kind of track was necessary for this rubber-tire system. It consisted of a conventional railway track, two reinforced concrete runways and two lateral guide rails. The guide rails keep the trains on track and provide 750-volt traction power to the cars. The high-voltage current is returned through the conventional railway track, which is then used as a guide when trains switch tracks or when a support tire loses pressure.

• Other cities that use rubber tires in at least part of their subway systems include:
Santiago, Chile; Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Paris and Toulouse in France; and Monterrey and Mexico City in Mexico.

• Mayor Drapeau considered aesthetics to be very important in Montreal's metro system. As a result, he had a different architect design each station. This included such well known Montreal architects as Victor Prus, renowned today for his work on the Palais de Congrès de Montréal; and Longpré et Marchand, known for their work on several buildings at McGill University. Drapeau's goal was to have each station reflect a different mood and atmosphere.

• The Montreal Metro was officially opened on Oct. 14, 1966. On this date, Line 1 and Line 2 were opened, consisting of 20 stations. Line 4 opened six months later — less than a month before the beginning of Expo. The initial lines (1, 2 and 4) stretched approximately 22 km and the total cost for the three was $213.7 million.
Medium: Radio
Program: Special
Broadcast Date: Oct. 14, 1966
Guest(s):
Reporter: Alan Yates
Duration: 5:14

Last updated: May 1, 2012

Page consulted on January 31, 2014

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