Electrical Explosion Shuts Down Montreal Subway

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Apr 15, 2000 - 11:16 AM

Electrical Explosion Shuts Down Montreal Subway

The Associated Press

MONTREAL (AP) - An explosion apparently sparked by an electrical problem shut down Montreal's subway system Saturday morning, a transit official said. No injuries were reported.

The blast and a subsequent fire knocked out the subway communication system, and yellow smoke that billowed out of two manholes caused authorities to evacuate about 100 people from their homes in case the smoke was toxic.

"We're fortunate that this happened on a Saturday morning," when traffic was light, said transit spokeswoman Odile Paradis.

She said no train passengers were injured in the explosion at 7:45 a.m. at the Laurier subway station in central Montreal. Scores of buses were deployed throughout the city to transport people waiting for trains. Paradis said she expected the subway system to be operating as usual by Monday.


-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), April 15, 2000



Saturday, Apr. 15, 2000

Several thousand forced from Montreal subways

By ALEXANDER PANETTA -- The Canadian Press

MONTREAL (CP) -- Several thousand people were forced from the subway system on Saturday after an underground fire and a series of small explosions.

The blasts at 7:45 a.m. shut down the entire system -- 65 stations -- for about six hours. Limited service was restored by mid-afternoon.

There were no injuries reported -- either to passengers on trains or residents in the area of the blasts.

"We're fortunate that this happened on a Saturday" and not during the work week, said transit spokeswoman Odile Paradis.

Paradis said sunny, mild weather also helped to ease a potential transit nightmare because many people preferred to walk rather than use public transportation for short trips.

Subway trains and stations had to be evacuated.

"I have a math test -- and I'm already late," said Lloyd Pierre-Louis, waiting for a bus outside the mid-town Laurier station.

Pierre-Louis had been forced to take another bus into town, instead of the subway, from his home south of the city.

He thought he was 45 minutes late for a final exam at the Ecole Polytechnique but school officials, aware of the problem, had postponed the test for one hour.

Paradis said the evacuation was performed calmly, adding there were no problems with passengers.

The fire and explosions happened near the Laurier station, in Montreal's trendy Plateau Mount Royal district. The fire was confined to two manholes near the station.

The damage knocked out the entire line's communications system and killed contact with train drivers, forcing a full evacuation and shutdown.

The cause may have been an underground cable that had already been damaged by a recent house fire in the area, said Yves Boucher, a city spokesman.

But one fire official said a power surge might have been the culprit.

"There was a lot of smoke and at least two gas explosions," said fire marshal Ron Dubeau. "When insulation and wiring catch fire, the burning plastic causes toxic fumes that explode when there's not enough air."

The blasts and fire also disrupted power to several thousand residents near the station and about 200 homes were still without electricity by 5 p.m.

More than 100 people were also forced from their nearby homes by thick yellow smoke, which smelled like burned plastic, that billowed from the manhole covers.

Only small traces of the damage remained by mid-afternoon.

A halo of charred concrete surrounded the manhole cover where the fire began and barricades blocked one sidewalk corner of the nearby intersection, where traffic lights were still out.

About 250,000 commuters use the subway system on a typical Saturday, Paradis said.

More than 100 extra buses were put on the road to keep people moving.

The buses were crammed with passengers, although one area merchant said they arrived frequently and there were no long lineups.

"It's actually quiet for a Saturday -- there'd be a lot more people here if the subway were running," said Youssef Essoulami, who owns a coffee shop on St-Denis Street, a popular thoroughfare lined with caffes and sidewalk patios.

Paradis said Saturday was only the third time the whole subway system had been knocked out of service, the last time being during the ice storm in 1998.

She said she expected full service to return to normal by Monday at the latest.

A collision of two subway trains in Toronto in 1995 during afternoon rush hour killed three people and injured 36 others.

Two key causes of the Toronto crash were a mechanical problem and an inexperienced driver.

-- Rachel Gibson (rgibson@hotmail.com), April 15, 2000.

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