Another year late for the REM

New problems in the Mount Royal tunnel will delay the opening of the Réseau Express Métropolitain (REM) by a year and drive up costs even more, it was learned The newspaper.

This is the third time in 18 months that the delivery of this electric train project, piloted by the Caisse de depot et Placement du Québec, has been delayed.

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Instead of opening from autumn 2023, three quarters of the stations (20 out of 26) will not be operational until December 2024.

The first electric car tests on Montreal's South Shore, June 2021.

Photo agency QMI, Joêl Lemay

The first electric car tests on Montreal’s South Shore, June 2021.

“The tunnel poses particular challenges due to the centuries-old explosives we found in 2020 and an advanced state of mining,” explains REM spokesman Jean-Vincent Lacroix.

After the explosion of old explosives in 2020, additional safety measures had to be taken, which delayed the work. Since then there has even been a second explosion.

“We wanted to open the tunnel in autumn 2023, but we saw that we could not start testing before summer 2024,” said Mr. Lacroix.

Problems with the construction of the tunnel under Mount Royal are causing additional delays in the opening of several stations under construction, such as here at Saint-Eustache

Photo Martin Alari

Problems with the construction of the tunnel under Mount Royal are causing additional delays in the opening of several stations under construction, such as here at Saint-Eustache

However, these tests for the operation of the trains will take six months, leading to December 2024. “These six months are incomparable,” assures the director of the REM branch in Deux-Montagnes, Jean-Philippe Pelletier.

Calendar turned upside down

Because the tunnel is in the middle of the grid, this impacted the schedule for the entire section north of downtown Montreal.

Until recently, the Caisse promised the following commissioning plan:

  • Between Central Station and Saint-Laurent (the section containing the tunnel) in autumn 2023;
  • Between Saint-Laurent and Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue in spring 2024;
  • Between Pierrefonds and Deux-Montagnes in autumn 2024.

But now not everything will open before the end of 2024.

“Until the tunnel is delivered and tested, even if the infrastructure on the other side is ready, I can’t deploy the REM anywhere else,” says Pelletier.

He says he hopes to meet the new deadline. “All the major risks are now behind us, all that remains is to do,” he emphasizes.

The problems at the Mount Royal Tunnel have already added hundreds of millions to the bill for the project. The Caisse today acknowledges that the latest estimate of $6.9 billion will not be met, but is unable to assess the magnitude of these new overruns.

As far as the connection to the airport is concerned, no date has yet been set for the commissioning.

Despite these new delays, the Fund is pleased to have avoided a possible “two-year” postponement and entry into service in 2026 by reviewing the entire sequence of train tests on the network.

Jean Vincent Lacroix.  speaker

Photo Martin Alari

Jean Vincent Lacroix. speaker

The original plan was to commission the network in five sections from south to north, starting in Brossard and ending in Deux-Montagnes.

“Due to the problems in the tunnel, if we had kept the REM deployment scenario from south to north, we would have delivered the REM around 2026, which does not work,” explains the director of the REM Deux-Montagnes branch, Jean-Philippe Pelletier.

Therefore, CDPQ-Infra, the Caisse subsidiary responsible for the project, has decided to speed up the construction of its traffic center in Saint-Eustache.

According to Jean-Vincent Lacroix, this will allow tests to be carried out north of the Mount Royal Tunnel without having to wait for it to become operational.

“We will see trains [vides] in circulation from the end of 2023,” he says.

This is the third time the REM schedule has been reviewed since the pandemic began.

In November 2020, the Caisse announced that an explosion in the tunnel and the pandemic had forced them to delay their project by 18 months. The first passengers were therefore no longer expected in 2021, but in the summer of 2022 on the South Shore of Montreal.

last january, The newspaper reported that the branch that connects the South Shore to downtown has been delayed yet again, this time to late 2022.

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