REM is delayed again: no date on when the train network will start rolling

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The latest delay is likely to last only days or weeks, REM planners say.

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Builders of the Réseau express métropolitain say they are in the final stages of testing before the new light-rail network can be deployed.

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However, there is still no start date, and a promise for a spring launch seems to have been missed.

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That’s because CDPQ Infra, the subsidiary of the province’s pension fund building the REM must achieve 14 days of testing without incident before it is turned over to the Groupe des Partenaires pour la Mobilité des Montréalais, the consortium charged with operations and maintenance of the new train network. That group will then thoroughly test the system for 30 days, running it 20 hours per day and simulating different problems and incidents.

Radio-Canada reported the project is delayed with a likely early summer start date.

Speaking for CDPQ Infra, Emmanuelle Rouillard-Moreau would not say when the network will open to the public.

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“We are almost there,” she said in a statement. “As you can see, the REM cars are everywhere on the network and we are in the very intensive phase of the last test, but what is important first and foremost is that the user experience is optimal from the first pass. When we are certain of this, we will be pleased to communicate a specific date, but it is fast approaching.”

This isn’t the first time the network has received a delay.

The branch between Brossard and Central Station was originally due to open at the end of 2021. That was pushed to the spring of 2022 after an explosion in the Mount Royal Tunnel, and the end of 2024 for the rest of the stations. The Brossard branch was delayed again to last fall, and then during the testing phase, it was delayed again to the spring of 2023 so the network could be put through another winter of trials. Most of the rest of the network is still due to open next year, while there is no date yet for the Griffintown station, which has yet to begin construction, and the Trudeau airport station is now due for 2027.

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Last month, Denis Andlauer, vice-president of operations for CDPQ Infra, said the Spring 2023 deadline was firm.

“There won’t be another delay,” Andlauer told reporters during a media tour of REM operations in Brossard.

A longtime lobby group said Montrealers should take news of another delay in stride, as it’s probably only a few days or a few weeks.

“Obviously it’s disappointing because people were anxious to test out the new network this spring,” said Sarah Doyon, the general director of Trajéctoire Québec. “However, this seems to be a good decision, made to ensure the reliability of the network, in the hopes that this delay is only a few days or weeks, and not more.”

Doyon said the new network will transform mobility in the Montreal region, with 26 stations slated to span the west of Montreal, the south and north shores and a part of Laval.

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“We’re used to transit networks orienting only towards downtown, but this service will provide frequent service throughout the whole region, and in both directions, so it’s a big change,” she said.

The REM project was initially granted to the pension fund by the province because it was hoped that it could have a better plan and build a project of this magnitude on time and on budget. Since then, the project has been delayed and its initial $6 billion estimate rose to close to $7 billion — an increase of nearly 17 per cent.

However, the cost increase partially — due to the pandemic and unforeseen circumstances — don’t prove that the project would have been better off as a strictly public venture, Doyon said.

“The delays are due to the fact that it’s a complicated project, and these are things that can happen during the course of such a project,” Doyon said.

She added that she doesn’t detect that users are particularly frustrated by this latest delay, but that could change if this latest delay lasts any longer than a few weeks. She’s confident the final testing phase will go well.

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