Public opposition to the notion of a railway on stilts slicing through downtown Montreal has killed a key portion of the Réseau express métropolitain (REM) commuter network to be constructed, and directly operated for profit by the province’s public pension fund.
The Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec walked away May 2 from its scheme for an elevated service from downtown Montreal to the island city’s far eastern tip. The 19.9-mile (32-kilometer), 23-station branch was estimated to cost C$10 billion, and take seven years to build. The pension fund said the branch would be unprofitable if it could not straddle downtown streets and consume one of the city’s treasured public parks.
The cancellation does not affect the initial REM 41.6-mile (67-kilometer), driverless network, which is due to open in 2023 (see map below). The mostly built, first phase hops, skips and jumps above Montreal’s existing network of autoroutes that had already disfigured the city in advance of the Expo 67 World’s Fair. Few cared that the eyesore highways would be topped by another layer of linear infrastructure. The eastern extension, on the other hand, would commit an original sin of dividing established neighborhoods in the manner of elevated expressways that severed North American cities from Toronto to New York to San Francisco.
The pension fund will be reimbursed for planning work to date, though little of it will be of use in the promised design of a alternative transit line, one that will connect with Montreal’s air-conditioned Métro subway system—another legacy of Expo 67, but one loved by a population, happy to burrow underground in a city cold and snowbound in winter and hot and humid in summer.
Meanwhile, progress has been made on the initial system. Connect Cité, a 50/50 joint venture of Aecon and EBC in which Aecon is the lead partner, has finalized a C$219 million contract with ADM Aéroports de Montréal to build the Montréal-Trudeau International Airport REM Station. The scope of work includes construction, project management and commissioning of the station shell and associated buildings to enable the concurrent REM project to access the site and complete equipment installations to commence operations. Construction was expected to be under way this quarter.
Aecon said its share “will be added to its Construction segment backlog in the second quarter of 2022, with additional scope and related pricing being finalized through a collaborative process in the coming months. The station is a significant addition to Montréal’s transit system and will be a critical hub for the REM network, a project in which Aecon is also currently playing a key role in executing. Upon completion, it will take approximately 25 minutes to travel from the station to downtown, with faster and more frequent all-day service.”