Quebec is scrapping the idea of a 100% underground Eastern REM, because of its too high cost of 36 billion. Asked to find a “financially responsible proposal”, the Regional Metropolitan Transport Authority (ARTM) plans to deliver studies by the end of October on the possibility of a rapid bus service (SRB), a tram or a light rail transport (SLR) system.
“We hope that these analyzes will make it possible to identify a financially responsible project proposal,” writes the Minister of Transport, Geneviève Guilbault, in a letter sent Friday to the president of the ARTM, Patrick Savard, and that The Press obtained.
Mme Guilbault thus responded to a correspondence sent by Patrick Savard, in which the ARTM essentially proposed to carry out additional studies. A return to the drawing board is deemed necessary due to the high costs of the project which the Authority attributes to train automation.
From July, The Press revealed that the final bill for the most recent version of the Eastern REM reached 36 billion. This scenario envisaged a route over a distance of 34 km and with a ridership of 29,000 passengers in the morning.
The trains would have run from Pointe-aux-Trembles to Cégep Marie-Victorin, in Montréal-Nord, with two connection points with the green metro line, in addition to an extension of four stations to Rivière-des-Prairies, Laval and Charlemagne, with a 100% underground route.
François Legault quickly showed himself unfavorable to the project, judging that such a cost “does not make good sense”. In her letter, Minister Geneviève Guilbault also insists on the fact that an “optimization effort” appears “essential” to be able to hope to successfully complete the Eastern REM project renamed the Eastern Structuring Project (PSE). ) since the withdrawal of CDPQ Infra in May 2022.
Studies by October
According to the minister, who has not yet commented precisely on the nature of the route to be favored, the final proposal must nevertheless promote the integration of the future PES “with the environments crossed, as well as with other existing modes and transport networks or planned”, without which the project would not really be an “attractive and competitive option for automobile travel”.
In his letter, Patrick Savard states that the ARTM studies will essentially compare the current project with “an SRB, a tramway or an SLR”, by analyzing in each case the expected commercial speed, ridership as well as the costs and investments “over a period of 40 years”.
In total, the Authority will have a budget of approximately 5.6 million to carry out these studies. “This mandate can be carried out within the sums already allocated and be delivered no later than October 31,” promises Mr. Savard.
According to our information, the government wishes above all to favor “phasing” in this matter, in the sense that it would prefer to go in stages by first opening up the east of Montreal and then making extensions towards the northern crown. “Substantial” savings could then be achieved, in the eyes of the government.
An “examination of the progressive implementation phases of the project” will be carried out, promises the ARTM on this subject, without however giving more details. “It will be necessary to see if we can split everything into two, three or four phases. This will have to be evaluated on several parameters such as the cost base, mobility, travel times,” said the head of the PSE, Marc Dionne, in July.
“Small part” underground
The director of public affairs at the ARTM, Simon Charbonneau, assures that the needs of citizens will be “at the heart of the approach” of the new studies.
Work continues to optimize this project. The collaboration with the (Ministry of Transport) is good and we are happy with the confirmation of the continuation of this major project.
Simon Charbonneau, director of public affairs at the ARTM
We still do not know what will happen to the mode of the project, in other words, whether it will be underground, even partially, or on the ground, or even above ground. Cautious, the cabinet of Mme Guilbault indicates that he is aiming for “structuring transport to open up” the east. “We must remove all the stones to find a solution at a reasonable cost,” maintains the minister’s communications director, Maxime Roy, reiterating that the ARTM must “go back to the drawing board to substantially reduce the bill.”
The office of Mayor Valérie Plante recalls that “the people of the East have been waiting for this transport project for too long”. “Our priority is that it is achieved without additional delays. This new mandate must provide rapid results to reduce the project bill and allow it to move forward while respecting the schedule,” explains the press officer, Catherine Cadotte.
One thing is certain: two months ago, in reacting to the initial bill of 36 billion, François Legault also deplored that the ARTM had not respected the initial wish of his government. “This is not what we asked of the committee. We had asked that there perhaps be a small part underground. We did not ask the ARTM for it to be completely underground,” he said.
For several years now, tensions between the ARTM and Quebec have been palpable. Recently, the Authority was also criticized again by the government for its management of signaling at Central Station, between the metro and the REM. In 2021, Quebec also criticized the organization for a lack of “prioritization” in a long and costly list of projects estimated at 57 billion.
All this occurs while the ARTM will be directly affected by a reform in sight at the Ministry of Transport. At a minimum, its role will be reviewed, since the government wishes to transfer part of the responsibilities of the Ministry of Transport to a new agency to better manage major projects. According to Prime Minister François Legault, this agency would mainly deal with public transportation.