The Montreal metro is often talked about for its breakdowns and its lack of public funding. However, it provides nearly 800,000 trips every day, thanks to the 380 operators who have the chance to take passengers from one end to the other of the four lines stretching over 71 kilometers.

We talk about “luck”, because they are the only ones in Quebec to practice this profession which is not practiced overnight at the Société de transport de Montréal (STM). Once a year, positions open up and are assigned by seniority to those who are already bus drivers.

“It’s the best job,” says Mario Bellerose, training at Complexe Crémazie. “I’ve been a bus driver, but a train is rewarding and exciting. I almost go back to my childhood. »

“It’s a family affair,” adds the man who is eager to become a metro operator like his brother and who is the son of a former operations manager.

All STM training takes place at Complexe Crémazie, where there are also offices and a manufacturing plant. Drivers and operators are trained there, as are maintenance workers and station agents.

An STM employee since 2008, François Rouleau drove buses, then metros and now he is a training agent. “It’s a family story,” he also emphasizes. My uncle and my grandfather worked for the Société de transport de Montréal. »

The training program to operate a subway lasts 40 days. It is both theoretical and practical with companionship with experienced operators. The apprentices also spend a few days at the Underground Fire Prevention Training Center (CFSPI), near Henri-Bourrassa station, which replicates a portion of the metro with a train. “This installation makes it possible to simulate emergency interventions,” summarizes François Rouleau.

At the Crémazie Complex, an Azur train driving simulator (which we tried!) allows apprentice operators to experience certain stressful situations without real consequences: emergency brake activated, smoke released, etc.

Driving Azur trains is automatic, but the first journey in the morning must be done manually. The old MR-73 cars still in service can also operate in automatic mode, except on the yellow line for reasons of comfort.

Future metro operators must also prepare to witness what the STM calls “attempts on violent death.” An entire protocol is in place to secure the premises and support both staff and customers. “We are never alone during an incident,” says François Rouleau, speaking from experience.

Several times a year, when events create high ridership in the metro, former operators are called upon to return to service. “I worked at the last Osheaga festival,” says François Rouleau, who likes to return to the field.

The latter has the STM tattooed on his heart. He has precious memories of metro trips with his grandmother from Monk station in Ville-Émard. “With the voice of Judith Ouimet before it was replaced by that of Michèle Deslauriers. »

In training, François Rouleau also strongly encourages future operators to speak to passengers on the microphone.

This is not the case in the REM, automatic and driverless.

Samir Merabti is waiting for us at the Crémazie metro station. His title: intervention leader. He is able to take stress because he manages all the unforeseen events that lead to breakdowns, whether it be intrusions into the tunnel or the use of pepper spray.

“Every minute of delay is recorded with incident reports,” specifies the one who is in direct contact with the operators and the control tower. The public underestimates the number of objects that fall on the track, he argues. People sometimes go down the tracks to retrieve their accidentally dropped smartphone.

Samir Merabti can operate and move trains as needed, whether for serious situations or “toilet emergencies.” As much as he manages stress, he must also be reassuring.

Security is a priority: even though the location of the control room is top secret…

“It’s not the same view, is it? », says Anne Bertin.

The icing on the cake of our report: a metro ride in his driver’s compartment on the orange line.

Anne Bertin started her shift at 5:04 a.m. and will finish at 11:40 a.m. At each end of the line, she can take a quick break and stretch her legs.

So far, the day has been rather calm. We only noted a service outage of a few minutes for a problem with a chute, the conduit allowing water to be channeled out of the network.

After passing under the Rivière des Prairies, we have already reached a place where the public does not have access, in the space of Montmorency station where the metro trains leave in the opposite direction. Anne will disembark from her driving compartment and a colleague will board the one at the other end of the train.

We will never ride the subway the same way again!