Not too late to stop REM
for a better solution
Grand Déblocage plan would save money and double capacity on Deux-Montagnes
By John Symon
On September 9, the Quebec government and the Caisse de depot (CDPQ) announced $192 million worth of mitigation measures to counter some of the ill effects of the REM (Réseau express métropolitain) electric train that is under construction on the Deux-Montagnes line. The entire 67km REM network is supposed to cost $6.3 billion. The 30km section from Deux Montagnes to Montreal’s Gare centrale already has an electric train on it, but this will be converted from conventional technology to that of the REM.
The REM is on track for future problems
The REM has been widely advertised as a project that will reduce traffic congestion and carbon emissions in the face of evidence to the contrary on both points. The BAPE, Quebec’s environmental hearing board, did analysis in 2017 and predicted that very few drivers will forsake their cars for public transit after the REM becomes operational. A study done by Gagnon and Lefebvre in 2018 predicted that the REM will actually increase carbon emissions for decades to come – largely due to the massive use of cement during its construction phase.
‘Starting in January 2020, the Mount Royal train tunnel – a critical transportation link – will be closed for two years, to allow replacement of the current tracks with REM technology.’
This project is being fast-tracked and is expected to become operational in phases from 2021 to 2023. Starting in January 2020, the Mount Royal train tunnel – a critical transportation link – will be closed for two years, to allow replacement of the current tracks with REM technology. Preliminary work on the REM has been causing disruptions to the existing train lines for 15 months already, making life hell for thousands of Montreal area citizens.
Mitigation measures don’t cover all affected
The measures will shuttle Deux-Montagnes train passengers towards the already overcrowded Orange Line of the métro. Residents of the Town of Mount Royal (TMR) and elsewhere – who will soon find themselves living next to the lights and noise of 550 daily trains every few minutes for 20 hours a day, seven days a week – basically get nothing. Ditto for residents of Roxboro who will soon find monstrous cement pillars next to their backyards. On top of all this, the REM will prevent VIA Rail’s planned high frequency (HFT) from travelling between Montreal’s Gare centrale and Quebec City.
The biggest issue with the mitigation measures is that a viable alternative to the REM costs only about $140 million and would avoid the problems mentioned above. It would also increase Deux-Montagnes train rush-hour capacity beyond that the REM can offer. Yet the Legault government stubbornly refuses to look at this.
‘… problems could be avoided if we adopted the Grand Déblocage plan… This would double capacity to about 14,000 for the morning rush hour…’
Still time for a better solution
All these problems could be avoided if we adopted the Grand Déblocage plan, detailed in the Parti Québécois’ 2018 election platform. The plan is to purchase double-decker train cars for the Deux-Montagnes train line and a few other tweaks. This would double capacity to about 14,000 for the morning rush hour…
The Deux-Montagnes train is already the best performing electric commuter train in Canada. The current locomotives date from the 1990s and have decades of expected useful life left in them. Also, no tunnel closures will be needed with the Grand Déblocage plan, and no major disruptions to service will happen. As a bonus, taxpayers will save $52 million versus the cost of mitigation measures that would not be needed.
‘Why then does it [the Legault government] so enthusiastically support a project that makes so little sense? Why not simply improve the existing train rather than replace it?’
Mr. Legault portrays his government as pragmatic and concerned about avoiding government waste. Why then does it so enthusiastically support a project that makes so little sense? Why not simply improve the existing train rather than replace it?
We also need to ask why the REM, a very costly transportation plan, is being pursued so ardently with so little concern for those who suffer as a result. A recent investigation by The Gazette revealed “a troubling pattern” of real estate ownership by the CDPQ, suggesting that the REM’s route might have been designed more to increase real estate profits for the CDPQ than based on transportation concerns.
On September 25 in Deux-Montagnes, local residents formally called on the Legault government to delay the conversion of the Deux-Montagnes train line to REM technology. It is still not too late to stop the Réseau express madness.
John Symon is a Montreal-based freelance writer and author. A long-time environmentalist, he is a founding member of Trainsparence, a group critical of the REM. He holds degrees in Geography and in Commerce.