REM builders deny the electric commuter train will be two years late

MONTREAL -- The company behind Montreal's REM electric commuter train is assuring the public that construction is on schedule and set to be up and running by the end of 2021.

 It comes as a response to an article in La Presse which said the train could be delayed by almost two years because of work on the Mount Royal tunnel.

"The project is on schedule. Even in certain sections, it's ahead of schedule," said Harout Chitilian, executive director on CDPQ Infra, the subsidiary of Caisse de depot leading the project.

La Presse obtained an internal report produced for the builder about the Mount Royal tunnel. The report stated that the Montreal fire department will require the tunnel to have a firewall between the north and southbound tracks and a ventilation system to evacuate smoke in the case of a fire. It also suggests the tunnel may have to be widened for safety purposes.

"Everybody knows that this is a 100-year-old tunnel. Everybody knows that the tunnel needs to be reinforced, that we need new ventilation systems, new drainage systems, lighting telecommunications, plus exit shafts for users," said Chitilian. "If they're ever in the tunnel and God forbid something happens – so there's no compromise on our behalf, on the security of the citizens."

The report stated the builder, a consortium led by SNC-Lavalin, worries the tunnel fixes could add to the $6.3-billion price tag and lead to two years of delays. The Caisse de depot suggests the builder is trying to negotiate in public.

"In a normal construction project, you always have a situation -- here the builder is going to ask for more money, more time, and then you'll push back, and they'll push back again," said Chitilian.

Quebec Transport Minister Francois Bonnardel is reassuring the public the train will be delivered on time.

The Caisse de depot won't say yet what kind of penalty the builder would face if it does indeed face delays.