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Rivière-des-Prairies residents feeling left out of east-end REM plans

Click to play video: 'Montreal East-end residents complain REM won’t reach them' Montreal East-end residents complain REM won’t reach them
WATCH: Residents of Rivière-des-Prairies (RDP) are feeling left out of the plans for the eastern expansion of Montreal's upcoming light-rail network.The two newly-announced lines will run as far as Montreal-North to RDP's west, and Pointe-aux-Trembles to its south.But as Benson Cook reports, it's spurring local politicians to take action – Dec 17, 2020

Residents of Rivière-des-Prairies on the northeastern edge of the island of Montreal are upset the recently-announced eastern service of the Réseau Express Métropolitain (REM) rapid-tranist network is not expected to serve their neighbourhood.

While the $10 billion “REM de l’Est” project announced by the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) on Tuesday will stretch north to Cégep Marie-Victorin and east to Pointe-aux-Trembles, no stops are planned to serve the Rivière-des-Prairies area. While the Marie-Victorin station will technically be located within the neighbourhood, it will be at its western edge, and primarily serve people living in nearby Montreal North.

That doesn’t sit well with RDP resident Paul Easton.

“Since I have lived here, which is about 15 years now, it’s always been an issue, getting downtown — it takes forever to drive,” he said.

Easton says it usually takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to get downtown, and a reliable rapid-transit link would make the journey far easier.

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

Joseph Paglia, also an RDP resident, agrees. “Statistically, we know that when public transit is easily accessible, it works,” he said.

And the current plans for the REM de l’Est are not easily accessible for RDP residents, Paglia says.

“It could be easily a 15-minute car ride, or bus ride, just to get to the REM station,” he deplored.

Unless the plans for the system are changed before construction begins in 2023, the only rails RDP residents will be able to ride will be Exo’s Line 5 Mascouche commuter train.

Where officials expect the REM’s trains to depart for downtown every few minutes when the system commences operations at the end of the decade, Mascouche line trains stop a total of just seven times each day, each way, at the Rivière-des-Prairies train station.

The Mascouche line also only runs on weekdays, while the REM will offer service seven days a week.

In addition, the time Mascouche line trains take to reach downtown has grown significantly ever since the construction of the REM’s western lines in the Mount Royal rail tunnel forced it to be diverted to trackage that cuts through the west end to reach Central Station.

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“It’s not a viable solution,” Easton said, standing just a few feet from the neighbourhood’s Mascouche line station. “If you look around right now, there’s actually no cars in the parking lot.”

Local borough councillor Lisa Christensen says she gets it.

“We’re so badly served by public transportation, and I can understand why people are upset,” she told Global News via Zoom. “Every time a project comes, up, you look at it, and say, ‘what about RDP? Where’s RDP in all that?'”

Read more: Uncertainty surrounds construction of future REM train station at Montreal’s Trudeau airport

Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles borough mayor Caroline Bourgeois told Global News that she has already reached out to the province to see if any changes can be made to the project to better accommodate RDP residents.

She said while she’s thrilled that the current plans will finally give Pointe-aux-Trembles residents a reliable rapid transit link to jobs, schools and entertainment in the downtown core, she recognizes why many on the other side of Highway 40 feel left out in the cold.

“We have to improve the situation for all the borough, and not only for RDP or only for Pointe-aux-Trembles,” she said.

“It’s really, really good news for the east of Montreal in the public transportation, and I will work to defend the citizens of all the borough.”

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With the train ultimately being built by the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), it’s up to them to decide how to move forward with the request for a station in the neighbourhood. CDPQ Infra, the subsidiary of the Caisse overseeing the construction of the REM, did not reply to Global’s request for comment by deadline.

But Christensen says even if they don’t budge for now, the current plans are better than no REM at all.

“I’ve been here 17 years, you know, metros, buses, transportation, I’ll take whatever I can get. And if the only thing, at the end of the day I can get is a REM station at the edge of my territory, I’ll take it, because it’s more than I have now, and in my mind, it’s a start.”

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
REM electric train network to receive extension with 2 new lines to serve Montreal’s north and east ends – Dec 15, 2020

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