The Caisse is Rushing ahead with REM,Ignoring concernsJuly 4th, 2016 by ant6n
Back in April the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec announced their REM project to build a large transit line in Montreal, and the initial excitement has worn off as the public has realized many issues with the proposal.
Some of the issues are due to the mandate the government gave the Caisse, and they are not really considering the regional impact. Some issues are due to focussing too strongly on the automated light metro technology, which is incompatible with existing plans and investments. Some are due to planning a project with profitability as the major concern rather than the public interest.
Concerns center on
- How it will negatively affect the regional rail network, notably other lines that need to access the Mont-Royal tunnel.
- The undoing of hundreds of millions in prior investment aimed at bringing several regional lines into the Mont-Royal tunnel, forcing transfers instead.
- The low capacity of the line, i.e. not being able to absorb the ridership from those other lines, and the Caisse’s refusal to publish the ridership studies.
- the potentially expensive construction and routing choices relative to ridership, without a cost drill-down.
- the privatization of public infrastructure, in particular the irreplacable Mont-Royal tunnel. The Caisse will also benefit from hundreds of millions of public investment.
- Whether and how the financing and profitability will work and to what extent the project will take away municipal taxes.
- Rushing the environmental review process.
- Whether the ‘potential’ tunnel stations connecting to Edouard-Montpetit and McGill will ever be built.
These are serious concerns that have been raised from many sides, and should be addressed before pushing ahead.
I’ve personally spoken with representatives of the Caisse. They’ve generally told me not to worry and assured me that the project is still in the planning phase, and that many decisions aren’t set in stone.
However, last week the Caisse has published their “Requests for Qualification” for the REM. The document sets out technical requirements for the construction and operation of the line. This means that the companies that want to build the line and the trains are already starting to work on it, based on this list of requirements. And these requirements ignore all of the raised concerns.
Here’s what we learn:
1. Missing The Tunnel Stations
When I talked to CDPQInfra representatives in person, they kept insisting on the importance of the Tunnel stations at Edouard-Montpetit and McGill. However, there are close to no mentions of the stations in the request for qualification, it only says “It (the REM network) may also offer connections with the Montreal metro green and blue lines and with the Saint-Jérôme commuter line.”
In effect, the Caisse is pushing ahead without those stations.
2. Little Integration With Existing Lines
At the townhalls, the Caisse floated the idea having several special trains wait for transferees from the Mascouche line, to provide extra capacity for those riders. However the document, only mentions the requirement for schedule integration, i.e. trains should arrive at the same time, but does not appear to require providing extra capacity.
Moreover, the St-Jerome line, which also won’t be able to access the Mont-Royal tunnel and will therefore require a transfer onto the REM, is merely mentioned as potentially having a connection.
3. The Schedule And Resulting Low Capacity
The document specifies peak service as follows:
This implies a maximum capacity of 6,000 PPHD (people per hour per direction) on the Deux-Montagnes line based on 600 passengers per train. Right now the maximum capacity is up to 8,000 PPHD in bursts during peak hours (one train every 15 minutes holding up to 2000 passengers).
Total capacity is 12,000 PPHD. A previous Mont-Royal tunnel station study assumed 27,000 PPHD.
The Maximum possible frequency of the system is specified to be up to every 90 seconds, for a maximum theoretical capacity of 24,000 PPHD (vs over 40,000 for the Montreal Metro, and 60,000 for the Paris RER).
Note that the document does not specify required maximum capacities on each branch, but instead sets the train size and the frequency, instead of letting vendors decide what the most efficient way is to achieve desired capacities.
4. Fixing on Incompatible Technology
Despite explaining at the town halls that the technology will be selected based on need, we’re set on an automated unattended light rail technology, with a specified low capacity, required electrification of 1.5KV, and platform screen doors and 80m trains. The capacity concerns are not addressed. Using this technology will prevent the other heavy rail lines from ever using the tunnels as planned.
The public has spent hundreds of millions towards a regional system around the Mont-Royal tunnel, these investments will be discarded as we’re moving to a less regional system. This system will also not have the capacity to absorb future passengers from the St-Jerome line, the Mascouche line, and the Blue line in order to relieve the overburdened Orange Line.
Choosing a slightly ‘heavier’ technology would allow maintaining compatibility and build towards a regional system, and it would provide more capacity. But this is not what the bidding process specifies.
5. Expensive Rebuilding of the Deux-Montagnes Line
The documents include the expensive conversion of the whole Deux-Montagnes line, removing 15 grade crossings, at maybe tens of millions apiece. It includes complete double-tracking of the line, including building several bridges over rivers. This would be unnecessary if we kept using longer trains with lower frequency in the 10-15 minute range, instead of every 6 minutes and very short trains.
The Deux-Montagnes line was actually re-electrified in the 90es for hundreds of millions of dollars to 25KV, because it is more efficient especially for longer heavy rail lines, any new electrification of heavy rail lines in North America will most likely use 25Kv. Now it will be expensively converted back to 1.5KV, with substations built every 4km, when right now the whole line is powered by one substation.
Back when the work was done in the 90s, the line shut down for several summers to do the conversion. Now the Caisse is claiming the much more substantial work will be possible without shutting down service except for “one or two weekends”.
We Have to Improve the Project
It’s fine for the Caisse to propose a transit project that’s not perfect, but it’s not right to ignore all the concerns raised. These have to be worked out before we push ahead with the project. Even though the Caisse people have previously assured that a lot of the decisions have not been made and that they’re still working on the proposal, the “Request for qualification” basically sets many decisions in stone.
We may end up in a situation where the public will ask for changes, and the Caisse will tell us that it’s too late to change the project, that we’ve had all the suppliers work really hard on this, and if we change everything now they’re not going to be interested in reworking it again, or at least prices will go up.
The REM could be a great transit project for the whole region, but may end up being compromised if the public is presented with a half-baked proposal that doesn’t address our concerns, and our only input is to decide whether we pay for it.