As REM construction ramps up, commuters promised buses, but warned of headaches to come

The provincial agency in charge of planning public transit projects in Greater Montréal warned that over 18,000 commuters should expect to see their commute times increase by as many as 40 minutes next year as REM construction shuts down large sections of the two heavily-used train lines.

Last April, the thousands of commuters who use Exo’s Deux-Montagnes line to get to work every day learned that service to downtown Montreal on the line will conclude in early 2020, two full years before the Réseau Express Métropolitain (REM) is expected to open in its place.

CDPQ Infra has maintained that the move is necessary to complete the work on what is expected to be the busiest stretch of the new regional rapid-transit system.  Uninhibited, 24/7 access to the Mount Royal tunnel is needed to finish construction on the three underground stations that will connect the line with the existing métro system, at Édouard-Montpetit, McGill and Bonaventure—Gare-Centrale.

On Thursday, the ARTM finally detailed the efforts that will be taken next year to minimize the impact that thee closure of the tunnel will have on commuters along the city’s northwestern corridor.  The agency says $192 million are being invested to mitigate the impacts construction will have on commuters.

Once the Mount Royal tunnel is closed early next year, Deux-Montagnes trains will terminate at Bois-Franc station.  From there, the STM will increase capacity on existing bus lines connecting the area to the métro’s blue and orange lines, and special shuttle services directly to Central Station downtown will also begin.  The ARTM is predicting commuters from the Canora, Mount Royal, Montpellier, du Ruisseau and Bois-Franc train stations will see an extra 20 to 25 minutes added to their morning commute.

The rest of the Deux-Montagnes corridor will continue to have train service as far as Bois-Franc until the middle of 2021, when the entire line will be shut down to complete the northwestern branch of the REM.  At that time, shuttle buses will run between Deux-Montagnes line train stations and Côte-Vertu station on the métro’s orange line.  Between 25 and 30 minutes will be added to commutes from that time.

Commuters who use Exo’s Mascouche line will have an easier time, but their commutes will still be impacted.  Beginning in early 2020, when the Mount Royal tunnel is closed, commuters on that line will be directed to change to the métro’s orange line at Sauvé station.  Commuters from the line’s three stations on the North Shore will also be able to take a shuttle service, provided by Exo, to the métro’s green line, at Radisson station.

Even commuters coming from the South Shore are expected to see some minor delays of 2-10 minutes.  Though nobody on that corridor is being displaced from a rail line, construction work on the Panama and Chevrier bus terminals is expected to impact people who get downtown by bus.

The ARTM emphasized that they thoroughly investigated options to minimize the impact the over two years of construction will have on commuters.  Reserved lanes for buses are expected to minimize the time displaced commuters spend sitting in traffic, for example.

Provincial Transport Minister Chantal Rouleau, who surprised reporters by briefly speaking in English during her prepared remarks at the briefing, said that she understands the “frustrations of families who will be impacted by work on the REM.”

City Councillor Craig Sauvé, who was present for the briefing, praised the province’s efforts to minimize the impacts of construction, and added that many of the investments will last long beyond the next four years. “One thing that’s interesting also is that they will be building bus lanes, and taking measures that will be there after [construction on the REM completes] also”, he said.

The REM will open in phases in the early 2020’s, with the branch connecting the South Shore, Nun’s Island, Griffintown and Central Station set to open in 2021.  The branch converted from the Deux-Montagnes line is not expected to open until a year later, in 2022, and even then, it will only open as far as du Ruisseau.  The remaining section of the REM’s northwestern branch will open a year later, in 2023.