Uncertainty continues to surround a proposed Réseau express métropolitain (REM) train station at Montreal’s Trudeau airport. The light rail network, once finished, should include 67 km of tracks that link Montreal, the south shore, the West Island and the north shore.
The ongoing pandemic, however, is causing some setbacks.
In August, Aéroports de Montréal (ADM) announced it was suspending all construction projects that didn’t protect the integrity of its assets, citing, at the time, “almost non-existent revenues.” ADM had previously announced that it would fund the construction of the train station in order to ensure airport access along the light rail network.
But in August, ADM said it would have to continue in “planning mode” until it could secure a “tailored loan” from various levels of government.
On Thursday, however, the Quebec government indicated that while it supports the building of the train station at the airport, it has already made a substantial contribution to the REM project as a whole.
A spokesperson for Transport Minister François Bonnardel said the government has already invested $1.28 billion in the REM, not including $192 million for the implementation of mitigation measures, while Hydro-Québec has also contributed $295 million.
“At this stage, we believe that efforts can still be made by the Montreal airport, which falls under the purview of the federal government and not of the Quebec government, in the search for a solution for the financing of this project,” said spokesperson Florence Plourde in an email to Global News.
ADM spokesperson Anne-Sophie Hamel said it wouldn’t be commenting as “the information has not yet been confirmed officially to ADM” by the Quebec government, “with whom we have been negotiating for more than five months.”
Hamel said the airport authority has been in negotiations with both levels of government in a bid to secure a loan, which is crucial to the financing of the project, seeing as ADM is anticipating revenue losses of around $600 million for 2020 alone.
“If it does not get a loan, ADM does not see how it could finance the construction of the REM station at the airport, without deviating from its primary mission as an airport authority,” she said.
Despite the setback, Hamel said ADM remained confident it would find the financial backing it needs in order to meet its obligations towards the REM project.
At a news conference on the province’s response to COVID-19 measures, Premier François Legault argued that having a train station at the airport was critical but reiterated it wasn’t the provincial government’s responsibility to pay for it.
“It has to be payed by the owner. The actual owner, ADM, or the preceding owner which was the federal government, he said.
“It doesn’t make sense that a big city like Montreal doesn’t have a station at their main airport. We can bring the REM to the airport but the station has to be paid either by ADM or by the federal government.”
In an email to Global News, Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau expressed his consternation.
“We were disappointed to learn that the government of Quebec has withdrawn from the Montreal airport station project after several months of work in collaboration with our government,” wrote Amy Butcher, a spokesperson for the minister.
“It is imperative that a solution be found given the importance of the airport station for this entire public transit project, a project that will improve mobility for citizens and visitors to the Greater Montreal area for generations to come.”
The mayor’s office also expressed disappointment.
“The withdrawal of a financial partner at this stage of the project could jeopardize its implementation and the success of the project,” said Youssef Amane on behalf of Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante.
The news also comes as a surprise to Montreal’s Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. The group has long supported the creation of a link between downtown Montreal and the airport.
“We were all caught by surprise and that should not happen for a project of this magnitude and this strategic importance,” said Michel Leblanc, CEO for the Chamber of Commerce.
Leblanc’s take on the situation is that it could be a negotiating strategy on the part of the provincial government. Ultimately though he believes that since the airport is part of federal infrastructure, the federal government should be offering the loans to airport authorities to help pay for the construction of the future train station.