Officials announce 2 new REM lines for Montreal’s north and east ends

Click to play video: 'REM electric train network to receive extension with 2 new lines to serve Montreal’s north and east ends'
REM electric train network to receive extension with 2 new lines to serve Montreal’s north and east ends
WATCH: The Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec announced a massive expansion to Montreal's REM electric train network. Two new branches will connect the city's north and east ends to downtown. But as Global’s Benson Cook reports, there are new questions about how integrated it will be with the still-unfinished train system to the south and west – Dec 15, 2020

The Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) has announced a second phase of Montreal’s forthcoming light-rail network to connect its outer suburbs with the city centre, before the first has even opened.

The newly announced expansion will add another 32 kilometres and 23 stations to the Réseau Express Métropolitain (REM). Where the REM’s initial four lines will serve the West Island, Trudeau airport and north and south shores, the two new lines announced Tuesday will serve the island’s east end.

The two new lines will connect Montreal North’s Cégep Marie-Victorin and the Pointe-aux-Trembles area with downtown.

Unlike the four lines to the west and south, these two new services will not make use of the Mount Royal rail tunnel. Instead, the CDPQ says it plans to construct new, elevated tracks in the median of René-Lévesque Boulevard, and then along the northern side of Notre-Dame Street East. Near the Olympic Stadium, the tracks will split.

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The northern branch will tunnel beneath Lacordaire Boulevard, where it will connect with Assomption station on the Metro’s green line and the future Lacordaire station set to be added to the Metro’s blue line.

The eastern branch, meanwhile, will connect with the green line’s eastern terminus at Honoré-Beaugrand and then follow elevated tracks in the median of Sherbrooke Street East to the island’s eastern tip.

The project will connect some employment hubs, notably in the Port of Montreal and in the city’s northeast end, to rapid transit for the first time. Politicians hope that could spur a broader revitalization of the sector.

“It means investors, it means more companies, it means more people buying houses, it means, even, more taxes for the city,” said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante at a press conference following the announcement.

CDPQ officials say it will take just 25 minutes to reach downtown from the Pointe-aux-Trembles REM station, when it opens. The journey from Cégep Marie-Victorin to downtown will take 30 minutes, while it should take just 10 minutes to get to the city centre from the two stations near Maisonneuve Park.

Trains will depart every two to four minutes during rush hours, the CDPQ says.

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Notably, the “REM de l’Est,” as CDPQ officials referred to it, will not connect with any of the forthcoming stations on the REM’s western four lines and the two networks will share no trackage. The REM’s two eastern branches will terminate at a downtown stop tentatively named Robert-Bourassa, not at Central Station.

The “Robert-Bourassa” station will be close enough to Central Station that passengers should be able to easily transfer trains. And the CDPQ’s President and CEO, Charles Emond, emphasized that the system’s tracks could one day be extended to meet its western counterparts.

“The great thing about having a structure that’s up in the air is it’s actually quite flexible for future developments, so we’ll see as things go along,” Emond said.

As the procurement process for these new lines has not begun yet, the CDPQ could not confirm whether the central electronic “brain” to control the automated trains will be the same as the one currently being constructed in Brossard to control the four lines of the network’s first phase.

During a technical briefing, an official acknowledged to Global News that if rolling stock and an electronic control system are selected that are incompatible with the Alstom Metropolis trains and Thales-designed automation system being used for the western REM lines, it is possible the “REM de l’Est” could be related to the “REM de l’Ouest” in name only.

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“In terms of software, there is three technologies available like that around the world, and we are not at the procurement stage yet,” said Jean-Marc Arbaud, CDPQ Infra’s director-general.

Construction on the project, expected to cost $10 billion, is set to commence in 2023. The CDPQ says its price tag will make it the largest public transit project ever carried out in Quebec, larger than both the REM’s first phase and the initial construction of the Montreal Metro in the 1960s.

Half of the funds are expected to come from the CDPQ, while the other half will be split between the provincial and federal governments.

“There’s a need to invest in our infrastructures,” Quebec Premier François Legault told reporters. “We’re trying, yes, to invest more in our roads, but we’re trying also to invest in collective transportation. That’s the future.”

If all goes to plan, officials hope the two new REM lines will welcome passengers aboard in mid-2029.

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