How would Montreal’s tramways have fared in this week’s snow storm?

How would tramways have fared in this week’s Montreal snowstorm?

By Andy Riga Wed, Dec 8 2010

Whenever the topic of returning tramways to Montreal streets comes up, someone mentions our city’s rough winters.

The issue came up a couple of weeks ago when IAi??wrote abouta Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal study (PDF here). At a press conference about the study, Board of Trade chief executive Michel Leblanc questioned whether streetcars are a good idea for Montreal, considering the snow, ice and cold weather we get.

That story prompted readerAi??Avrom Shtern, the transportation spokesperson at the GreenAi??Coalition,Ai??to write to me.Ai??

“What planet are they from?Ai??All too often, I see reports by high-priced consultants who would like us to believe that they know what they are talking about.

The Montreal Board of Trade study discredits itself by saying that streetcars & related light rail may not be suited to Montreal’s winters.

They have ignored history…Ai?? Montreal’s tramways had operated in the harshest of conditions and were much more reliable in snow and ice than buses, (that incidentally were unavailable in [the Nov. 26] Montreal morning rush hour because of a little bit of freezing drizzle… )”

I asked Shtern to write something in more detail about streetcars in winter.

Here it is:

The Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal discredits itself by saying that streetcars and related light rail may not be suited to Montreal’s Winters.

They have ignored history… Ai??Montreal’s tramways had operated in the harshest of conditions and were much more reliable in snow and ice than busses. Ai??Ai??

Opponents of tramways often repeat the fallacy that streetcars are not suited in winter cities because snow, ice, freezing rain, slush, wind, condensation, etc., can be a problem and can impact on the reliability of operations.

Winter conditions are a challenge in the Snow Belt for all forms of transport butAi??electric trains can and have run in the snow as long as transit management worries about the consequences of shutting down the system.

The AMT’s electric Deux Montagnes commuter line was the last train standing/operating during the 1998 IceAi??Storm. Although it is a heavy rail commuter line it is typical of electric traction systems that are able to sustain operations during winter storms unless the overhead conductor fails.

Quite often, modern transit operators do not want to cope. This recently happened when STM buses did not show up because of a little bit of freezing drizzle and ice on the roads.

According to railway and mass transit expert Ai??Edson Tennyson:Ai??

“…about 1942, a big snow storm caught [Pittsburgh’s streetcar system ] off guard. Car house personnel had gotten fat, happy and careless soAi?? the snow sweepers in the back of the barn were hemmed in by bad order cars. Many sweepers had not been serviced for years and were not working reliably.” But this is a result of bad management not the inherent value of streetcar service. Ai??

Tennyson adds: “Electric traction can work well in snow. In 1949-’51 I worked in Milwaukee on the Rapid Transit. It ALWAYS ran in the ice and snow. Ice on the wire did cause trouble. The motormen had to get out and bang the trolley pole on the wire to knock the ice off but they eventually got where they were going. There were days that nothing moved in Milwaukee but electric traction.

“Some of the motormen, expecting a big storm would sleep in the cars at night so they would be there on time for their run. Shaker Heights Rapid Transit [Cleveland, OH] was more sophisticated.Ai??They sent the Line Car, [Catenary Car], out with two men on the roof with baseball bats. They banged away at the live wire as the car moved slowly Ai??to get the ice off. Ai??Line Cars had wooden roofs and the men had rubber gloves and boots. Deep snow was ploughed.”Ai??

Hydro Quebec now has a melting techniqueAi?? that heats the conductor.

Years past, motorists would switch over to streetcars and trains during winter storms. Many urban electric traction railways added service during stormy periods to carry the “Snow Bird” motorists. The intrinsic efficiencies of the streetcar in snowy conditions is well known in winter cities that host tramway networks such as:

Helsinki, Finland, St. Petersburg Russia, Moscow, Russia, Oslo, Norway, Geneva, Switzerland, Basle, Bern and ZA?rich Switzerland, Gdansk, Poland, (Danzig),Ai??Ulan Bator, Mongolia, Minsk, Belarus, and P’yAi??A?ngyang, North Korea.

P’yAi??A?ngyang has a hard time running the system because of financial difficulties, not because of winter snow. Likewise, Moscow and the new Toronto mayoral administration are currently hostile towards the tramway because of ideology that favours the car above else.Ai??Ai??Ai??

St. Petersburg, Zurich and Helsinki have extensive systems.

The Helsinki tram network is one of the oldest electrified tram networks in the world.

St. Petersburg, Russia claims to be the most extensive network in the world.

Winter cities like Milwaukee, WI, Burlington, VT and Montreal also had streetcar systems which did not cease operations during stormy conditions.

The streetcar has also gotten a bad reputation regarding street congestion.

Buses hinder traffic flow more than the streetcar, as more are required to carry the same passenger load. Below is an image accounting a winter mess associated with articulated buses in Ottawa in 2005. The image below was taken by Harry Gow of Friends of the O-Train.


The following link is to:a photo of one of STM’s predecessor Montreal Street Railway’s snow sweepers.Ai??

this YouTube video of a tramway in snow in Oslo, is on the Projet MontrAi??al Facebook page:


Comments are closed.