Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
The modest-looking MR-63s ushered in the city’s rapid transit system 50 years ago. Starting this year, they’re being phased out for sleek new models.
The “Tube Jean Built” is getting new rail cars. Montreal’s metro system saw the first of its sleek, new Azur cars pick up passengers last month. By 2018, STM, the city’s transit authority, expects to have its original fleet of MR-63s taken completely out of service. They’ll retire with a lot of history behind them.
The fleet’s look is inspired by the rubber-tired cars that debuted in Paris’s metro in the 1950s. Designed by Quebec native Jacques Guillon, the blue and white cars were purchased in 1963 and made their inaugural run with the system’s grand opening in 1966.
Things didn’t always run smoothly. In July 1967, an operator fainted in an overheated train, which then crashed into a wall at the end of a tunnel. New overhead air intakes were added soon after.
Thirty-six MR-63 cars were destroyed in a fire in 1971 that killed a train operator. Nine more cars were destroyed in another fire three years later. Although not the root cause, ad placements over light panels inside the cars were determined to have helped spread both fires. Three cars salvaged from the 1974 fire were later used to train metro employees and firefighters.
Even the beloved “dou-dou-dou” sound its successor, the MR-73, is known for making traces back to Montreal’s first subway cars. The noise is generated by a current chopper, originally tested on two MR-63s. According to STM, a few MR-63s still dou-dou-dou on their way out of each station.
And while those same MR-73s were late for delivery in 1976, MR-63s quietly filled in to shuttle passengers through new Green line stations just before the Summer Olympics. An MR-63 also hosted the system’s first auto-pilot ride (1975) and first woman operator (1980).
They’ve outlived their 1993 refurbishment, but MR-63s will be spotted again one way or another. STM announced last week a call for reuse proposals that are already generating some wild ideas. Submissions are due by June 1, and winners will be announced in October.