Montreal

Mount Royal tunnel's closure delayed to spring, but REM construction still on track

The postponement means suburban train commuters will be back on track for the winter. However, the delay will have no impact on the overall construction schedule, CDPQ Infra says in its Tuesday announcement.

Postponement means suburban-train commuters can rely on the regular commute until March 30

The Mount Royal tunnel first opened in 1918 after about six years of construction. It now serves as a crucial train link to downtown and is used by thousands of daily commuters. (Radio-Canada)

The thousands of Montreal train commuters who ride under Mount Royal every day can breathe a temporary sigh of relief — the tunnel's two-year closure has been postponed until the spring.

"This is good news because we will be spared the difficulties of winter," said commuter Magali Barré, but she added, the fight's not over yet.

She's among a group of train users who have been pushing Quebec government and all other players involved to improve transportation mitigation measures for commuters beyond the promised station-to-station shuttles and fare discounts.

"This is not a victory. There is still a lot to do," she said. "We have no reason to back down."

The century-old tunnel's closure is a crucial step in constructing the REM light-rail network. Its walls need reinforcement, tracks need replacing and lighting needs upgrading before driverless, electric trains zip through every few minutes, every day.

Originally scheduled for Jan. 6, the closure has been changed to March 30 so CDPQ Infra can iron out project-planning details.

Magali Barré represents a group of commuters that is fighting for improved transportation measures during the Mount Royal tunnel's closure. (Radio-Canada)

CDPQ Infra is a subsidiary of the province's pension fund manager, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, which is overseeing the REM's construction.

Project officials are looking to ensure the workforce is in place and all the construction sites are accessible to crews as they work simultaneously across the Montreal region. There is also an effort to speed up final design work.

CDPQ Infra says this effort to optimize work with the NouvLR consortium will add $230 million to the project's overall price tag, bringing it to about $6.5 billion.

REM project remains on schedule

Regardless of the additional costs and the postponement, CDPQ Infra says the REM network will open on time. The South Shore branch is scheduled to be up and running by late 2021, the rest by 2023. 

The tunnel's closure will suspend train service between Central and Du Ruisseau stations. Trips on the Deux-Montagnes and Mascouche lines will take as much as 40 minutes longer than usual.

Quebec and CDPQ Infra have set aside $192 million for transportation measures throughout the REM project. For the tunnel closure, shuttle services and fare discounts have been planned.

The incoming REM light-rail network will connect Laval, Montreal and the South Shore. With 26 stations and 67 kilometres of track, it is supposed to open by the end of 2021. (Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec)

To accommodate users of the Deux-Montagnes train line, CDPQ Infra will provide free travel for January and a discount of up to 30 per cent on certain monthly passes from January to March.

The Société de transport de Montréal (STM) will deploy 50 buses during the two-year tunnel closure. Just last week, the agency announced that it leased 30 coach buses to meet that demand.

The STM says it is evaluating the postponed tunnel closure and plans to adjust as needed. As for the 30 coaches, the contract was delayed to March 30, the STM says, and drivers will instead be ready for the new date.

with files from Radio-Canada

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