‘Proud of where we are right now’: REM team defends delays

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REM transit team defends delays: ‘Proud of where we are’
WATCH: Last week officials announced that the western portion of the REM rail project had been delayed once again. It was supposed to be ready by 2023, then 2024 and now 2025. It’s in large part due to the complex work to get the Mount Royal tunnel ready for the new train network. Global’s Dan Spector reports. – May 1, 2024

Montreal’s REM train network was supposed to be ready by 2023 but it was delayed until 2024 — and now 2025.

Officials say the setbacks have been caused in large part by the complexity of the work involved in getting the Mount Royal Tunnel ready for the new train network.

Now, officials say the tunnel they’re calling “the core” of the REM network is 82 per cent complete. They proudly showed off their work to reporters on Wednesday.

“This is a real challenge. This is fantastic,” said Agustin Rey, director of the Mount Royal Tunnel project for the REM.

Rey’s mission is to manage the modernization of the century-old, five-kilometre-long tunnel that runs under the mountain to future REM stations downtown, including one at the Eaton Centre where officials offered a glimpse.

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Tunnel work was delayed by the discovery of undetonated explosives from the initial construction, then by the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain issues. Now, however, the biggest challenge is logistics.

“You have five kilometres and only one entrance,” said Rey. “You can imagine the logistics.”

Workers are on site 24/7, shuttled in along with different materials using a small “worker train.”

Because it takes so long to get in and out, everything needs to be choreographed perfectly.

“We plan a week where the teams will be every single day, every single hour,” Rey explained. He said between 75 and 90 employees focus only on the logistics of bringing people and materials in and out.

A simple equipment breakdown far into the tunnel can take hours to address, and those delays add up.

“Generally it could take two to five hours to get there,” said logistics coordinator Sebastien Forgues. “That is lost time.”

Mount Royal tunnel director Agustin Rey discusses the new walls during a media tour of the tunnel as construction progresses for the Reseau express metropolitain (REM) electric light rail system in Montreal, Wednesday, May 1, 2024. The Canadian Press

The team is very proud of the 5,000-metre-long  centre wall it recently completed to divide the tunnel’s two track lanes for safety reasons.

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“Just to deliver one cubic metre of concrete is a challenge. Just to deliver rebar is a challenge,” said Rey.

The old Exo tracks that welcomed 60 trains per day have been totally replaced with new ones for the eventual 500 daily REM trains.

“We’re pretty excited. We can see the progress,” REM west phase project director Jean-Philippe Pelletier told Global News. “What’s left is all the systems that we have to install. By that we mean the electrical, telecommunication and radio communication systems.”

A total of 700 kilometres of cabling are needed in the five-kilometre tunnel to run the high-tech automated system. Thousands of hooks and racks installed in the walls will be packed with electrical components.

One hundred drilled-out bays along the walls of the tunnel will be filled with computers, cables and pipes.

The team originally planned to complete the tunnel before commencing tests on the REM tracks leading to Deux-Montagnes and Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, but the delays in the tunnel caused them to shift their strategy.

Pelletier says there will be tests the elevated tracks in those areas this summer, while work on the tunnel continues.

“If you look at history and the time that normally projects used to take to arrive at the same level of completion, we can just be proud of where we are right now,” said Pelletier.

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The team behind the REM is now confident the network can be delivered in 2025 but won’t give a specific date.

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