A state-of-the-art light-rail system will replace the train line
In April of 2016, Quebec’s pension fund manager, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), announced its plans to build a state-of-the-art light-rail system — linking Deux-Montagnes, Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Montréal-Trudeau Airport, downtown Montreal, and the South Shore.
This plan involved slowly but surely shutting down Exo 6, a train line running from Gare Centrale in downtown Montreal to Deux-Montagnes on the North Shore, which carries nearly 31,000 passengers per day.
Construction began in 2018 with service being stopped on Friday evenings and only resuming on Monday mornings. According to a report by the Montreal Gazette, this shutdown of weekend services affected nearly 3,000 riders.
In order to completely rework the line, plans were drawn to shut down all train services between Gare Centrale and Deux-Montagnes in mid-2021, for approximately two years.
Fast-forward to September of 2020 and the plans to shut down the line have been moved up by six months to Dec. 31 after ridership has drastically dropped due to the pandemic. This comes after services were already halted between Gare Centrale and Gare Bois-Franc back in May.
Alternative modes of transport have been funded, most notably the shuttle buses taking passengers from the Deux-Montagnes station to Côte-Vertu metro and from Terminus Saint-Eustache directly to Montreal’s downtown area, as well as reserved bus lanes. However, not all commuters are sure this will be enough.
“I’m more frustrated than anything,” said Reyanne Desir, a Concordia student. “I don’t have my driver’s license. Therefore, the only way I can travel is by train or bus. The bus can be unreliable. The train is the best option that I don’t have access to right now.”
With tens of thousands of commuters now having to choose between taking a bus with reduced capacity because of the pandemic, or driving on already-congested roads, Desir is not alone in doubting the alternative’s efficiency.
“I would probably take my car because going with the bus and metro would take me a good hour-and-a-half, maybe two. I would be heavily affected, because by train, I was there in one-hour max. It would be kind of a big deal for me,” said Concordia student Simon Riopel.
Of course, with the uncertainty of the pandemic, which has only worsened in recent weeks, safety is also of great concern for commuters that may now have to take the bus or metro.
“With the pandemic, it’s just constant uncertainty and I don’t know if I should get my own apartment in Montreal or just wait,” added Desir.
The Concordian reached out to the Deux-Montagnes User’s Committee, a group dedicated towards demanding suitable mitigation measures from the REM, for comments on the matter. One spokesperson stated that the “CDPQ is lucky to have the COVID [because] without the lockdown, the service would be a disaster.”
The Réseau express métropolitain has not responded to a request for comment.
The Mount-Royal tunnel portion of the line is expected to be finished in late 2023 and the entire network by late 2024.
Graphic by @the.beta.lab