• REM construction is well underway on Montreal Island and its suburbs.
  • We spoke with REM Communications Director Jean-Vincent Lacroix to learn more about the project, developers' vision, fares, and the service schedule.

Announced in 2016, the Réseau express métropolitain (REM) has been the most highly-anticipated public transport project in Montreal since the metro. Over the years, the REM has gone from concept to a city-wide construction project. There's been some incredible progress around the West Island and the South Shore and across the entire REM network. Montrealers will see the first trains running in 2021. 

For those that might be skeptical, the REM is spearheaded by an ambitious team that has clear goals. Jean-Vincent Lacroix, Communications Director for the REM tells MTL Blog that, "right now, we're in line to meet the timetable.

There's a lot of challenges and we have to be really agile and flexible but at the same time, we have to make important decisions to make this project happen." We've already seen many renderings of what the stations will look like. 

There's a common misconception that the REM is a rail line — a misunderstanding that the project's managers hope to clear up. The REM is, in fact, closer to the existing metro than it is a train. 

We spoke with Jean-Vincent Lacroix to find out more about the REM project's progression, goals, costs, and more.


Questions and responses have been edited for clarity. 

How's construction going? 

Construction is on-track. In the South Shore and the West Island, you can see the elevated structure is progressing at a good pace. We started the West Island section in July this year and we are already in the second phase. The stations in the South Shore are advancing and you can already feel the architecture of the stations. 

Our goal is to make sure that next year, the section including Rive-Sud and Du Quartier stations will be ready by fall 2020 for our representative [testing] segment. This is to make sure that we have around 13 months of testing in the various climate conditions and for the driverless system. This time next year, you'll see the first REM cars being tested in the South Shore. 

We're also planting 250,000 trees to offset the environmental issues caused by the trucks and construction. We're also pledging that for every tree we cut down, we're going to replant it plus add another 10% trees in the same area. 

How many phases of testing will there be before the first REM train rolls out?

We have three kinds of testing. First, we've already tested the cars in a cold environment. We have a cold chamber that is used to test the cars and component parts in the most extreme conditions. We also do the same for the platform screen doors.

The second test will happen during those 13 months on the representative segment. This is the real-life test in Montreal's conditions, representing what's happening in a normal year. Not just a question of winter, but a question of those in-between temperatures.

The temperatures change really fast and we have to make sure the REM can handle it.

The last test will be during the last 6 months before the integration of each segment. There's a lot of different processes that go into testing the REM to make sure it's fully functional.

What are the associated costs and how does the REM anticipate any setbacks? 

The Caisse de dépôt et placement Québec started a new subsidiary called CDPQ Infra in 2015. At that time, they decided that the Caisse de dépôt can look at two projects: a South Shore project and one that will serve the airport.

After almost a year, they came back with the idea to have one integrated project. That was really the game-changer because now you have a whole 67-kilometre metro system that connects both places.

There is also financing from the governments of Quebec and Canada, Hydro-Québec, and the ARTM. We have a lot of different consultations and discussions with municipalities to make sure the project is going well. 

When you look at the cost of the project [an estimated $6.3 billion] something that is different from the other projects is that in our business model, we have to anticipate all the costs for the years to come.

The cost that we're charging the ARTM for every commuter includes operating the REM, building, and maintaining it. It's like if the metro of Montreal anticipated 50 years ago that they would have to buy AZUR cars.

That's why it's so innovative. We have to have a business model that's bringing the cost that anticipates the future. 

There are 30 years of anticipation in the costs. If we need to replace cars, there's a plan for that. People see that we're replacing some train lines but the REM has a vision that with more frequency. We can help people travel throughout the whole day, not just during rush hour.

We see that younger generations want to have flexible hours and the REM is really designed with a vision of how we see people travelling in the future — not just having major trains that come every half hour and don't come on weekends. We aim to always have REM service.

Why do you think it's important for Montreal to get the REM? 

We see that there's a need for public transportation not only for Montreal but around the world. We say it a lot, but the REM is the most important public transit project in Montreal in the past 50 years. We're pretty much doubling the metro with the REM and it's much needed in Montreal. 

We're trying to use the term metro more and more because that term better represents what the REM will actually feel like. It's linked to the original vision of the Montreal metro according to Jean Drapeau.

There's never been direct access through Mont-Royal, you've always had to go all the way around. People living in Outremont, Aunthsic, Villeray, in the heart of Montreal will have access to downtown like never before.

19 of 26 stations will be on the Island of Montreal so for us, the REM will change the way people will transit in the city. It'll run 20 hours a day, the same number of hours as the metro. 

REM

The more the REM is integrated, the better it will be. Integration is the keyword for us in order for the REM to be a success.

It's something that's really major for our team, the integration of buses and metro. For the South Shore, the West Island, and Laval, the REM presents a huge opportunity.

When the REM is there, the local buses that have to go into Montreal won't need to anymore.

The STM is looking at this opportunity and is seeing that the REM is taking away the need for buses to go into downtown and they can re-route the buses to better serve the suburbs with more and more local service. It's going to be a collective success.

How much will the fare cost commuters? 

We don't know how much it's going to cost for a fare or an OPUS pass. It's a little theoretical but what we do know is the cost that we're asking the ARTM. It's based on the cost of the REM that the ARTM decides the fare.

REM

But the people aren't going to pay that whole part. Our cost is very competitive. The fare will be a similar price to what people are used to, based on the facts that we currently have.*

REM

The REM will begin rolling out the first public cars in 2021 and the whole network will be ready by 2023! 

The new rapid transit line will connect the South Shore, downtown, airport, West Island, and suburb of Deux Montagnes.


*This article has been updated.

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