Public transit users in Montreal and on the North Shore will have to exercise patience as problems with the Mount Royal tunnel mean most of the Réseau express métropolition’s (REM) stations won’t open before the end of 2024.
In a press release published Monday morning, CDPQ Infra — the infrastructure project wing of Quebec’s public pension fund — confirmed that the branch of the light-rail project linking downtown Montreal from Gare Centrale to the South Shore remains on schedule for fall 2022. The remaining stations on the North Shore and in the West Island are scheduled to open in late 2024.
The opening date of the branch servicing the Montréal-Trudeau International Airport is expected to be announced in the fall.
Instead of opening in three phases between fall 2023 and fall 2024, 18 of the 26 stations — located in downtown Montreal, the West Island and the North Shore — will welcome their first users simultaneously at the end of 2024, according to the most recent REM estimates.
In an interview with the Journal de Montréal, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec — the province’s pension fund manager — acknowledged the delays will lead to higher costs, exceeding the most recent estimate of $6.9 billion.
This isn’t the first time that challenges with the Mount Royal tunnel have caused delays for the REM.
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In November 2020, CDPQ Infra held a press conference to announce that unforeseen events in the tunnel — in addition to challenges related to COVID-19 including staff shortages and supply chain issues — would delay the project.
The unforeseen events include the discovery of the deteriorating central wall of the tunnel’s arch located beneath McGill College Avenue. Explosives left behind from when the tunnel was first built more than 100 years ago were also found.
As a result, CDPQ Infra has reworked its schedule for the entire network to be operational — except for the airport portion — before the end of 2024.
Testing of the train cars was reviewed but could start before summer 2024 in the tunnel. Trials for the branch between Montreal and the South Shore are already underway.
CDPQ Infra also indicated that if the testing schedule for the opening of the stations from south to north had been maintained, the REM would not have reached Deux-Montagnes before 2026.
The REM team also pointed out that discussions are underway with the Autorité régionale de transport métropolitain (ARTM) and Mobilité Montréal to maintain the mitigation measures put in place with the complete closure of the exo Deux-Montagnes train line and obstacles related to the exo Mascouche line. These two commuter train lines used the Mount Royal tunnel before it was closed.
— with files from Global News’ Annabelle Olivier