Transforming Travel Around Montreal

By Anna Guy

It has been described by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “one of the most ambitious public transportation projects in our history.” The Réseau Express Métropolitain (REM), is Montreal’s new automated light rail network which will, upon completion, transform how millions of people get around the City of Saints.

Announced in 2016, the REM is the biggest transport project since building the Metro—and will be almost as long. It will include 26 stations and span the greater Montréal area with 67 km of tracks; by comparison, the current metro network is 71 km long. These two networks will also be interconnected at three nodes, allowing better fluidity of passengers.

Robert Nadeau, deputy general manager for the REM Project, tells Business Elite Canada that the REM is the largest public transit project undertaken in Québec in the last fifty years. The first trains are expected to start running in 2021 from the South Shore to Bonaventure-Central Station, followed by the other branches of the network which will be gradually put into service in 2022-2023.

“There will be a REM train going downtown every 2.5 minutes,” says Nadeau. “From downtown, it will take approximately 25 minutes to go to the airport.” To ensure a seamless start to the project, Nadeau says they system will undergo 13 months of testing in the various climate conditions and for the driverless system to work out any kinks before riders are ready to board in 2021.

The engineering challenges on the project are somewhat jaw dropping. The future Édouard-Montpetit station, which will be built at the Université de Montréal as part of the work for the REM, for example, will be the deepest underground station in Canada.

With construction occurring in such densely populated areas, Montrealers are highly anticipating their new modes of transport. The REM project has done a great job at keeping citizens informed of its progress and also engaging them as much as possible in the project. A great example of this was the naming of the REM Tunneling Boring Machine. A little background: Until the arrival of the machine, the construction of the metro had been carried out by drilling and blasting. “This is the first time that a TBM of this type has been used in the Province of Quebec, capable of both digging the rock and assembling the tunnel,” says Nadeau.

People were invited to send in suggestions to name the machine. After receiving more than 1,400 proposals, the winning suggestion was “Alice”, fittingly named in homage to Alice Evelyn Wilson (1881-1964), the first female geologist in Canada. Other notable suggestions were Celine Dion and Bianca Andreescu.

The Lite Rail Boom

Montreal’s REM will become the one of the longest automated transportation systems in the world, after the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit, Vancouver SkyTrain, and Dubai Metro. Lite Rail systems are already working in Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, and the Waterloo Region, with more planned or under construction in Hamilton, Peel Region outside of Toronto, Quebec City, and Toronto.

The benefits of the system are less traffic congestion, service speed, strong safety record, comfort. A report by the International Association of Public Transport says, “Light rail can also operate in urban and suburban environments, in mixed traffic or on segregated tracks, at ground level but also underground or elevated if necessary and has proven its flexibility in serving pedestrian areas.” It’s also an environmentally-friendly option, consuming “on average seven times less energy per passenger than cars and producing no emissions at street level.”

“Not only making it quicker and easier for Quebec residents to get around, the REM will reduce the number of cars on the roads, help ease traffic and make the air cleaner,” says Nadeau.

Environmental stewardship is integrated into the project at every level. “We are committed to planting 250,000 trees to offset some of the impact of the project,” adds Nadeau. “In addition, for every tree that we have to cut due to work, we will replant that plus 10 per cent more. We want to ensure we are doing the right thing as far as environment. And once the REM is up and running, it will decrease the amount of greenhouse gas by 680,000 tons over the next 25 years of operation.”

Nadeau says this is the biggest project of his career so far, and finds the challenge exhilarating. Managing stakeholder relations, and all the individual projects that make up the overall REM system has been an incredible experience, one that will eventually change the face of transportation in Montreal.