Montreal's proposed light rail system misses mark, critics say

Some experts and opposition politicians say the ambitious $5-billion, 24-station proposal for Montreal misses the mark.

Lack of Metro links among problems flagged by opposition politicians, urban-planning experts

One of the new commuter rail stations envisioned by the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec. (Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec)

The honeymoon period appears to be over for the proposed light rail project, hailed as Montreal's largest expansion of public infrastructure since the construction of the Metro system.

The ambitious, $5-billion project received widespread praise when it was announced last week, particularly from West Island residents who have spent decades pleading for improved train service.

But experts and opposition politicians say there are holes in the plan.

Here is a round-up of some of the criticism facing the proposal put forward by the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec last Friday.

The 67-kilometre rail line would connect 24 stations across Laval, the South Shore and the West Island, with the first trains scheduled to roll by 2020. 

A map of the proposed rail line that would connect Montreal's West Island, South Shore and Laval. (Caisse de dépôt et Placement)

The Metro connection

Kevin Manaugh, an urban planning professor at McGill University, called the Caisse's plan "ambitious and exciting." However, Manaugh said, the proposed rail system needs to be better integrated with the Metro.

Only one station, Gare Centrale, would be connected to the Metro, he points out.

Craig Sauvé, a city councillor with Projet Montréal, raised the same issue.

He told CBC Montreal's Daybreak on Monday he'd like to see the construction of two additional light rail stations, McGill and Édouard-Montpetit, which would be linked to the Metro.

Transport Minister Jacques Daoust told Daybreak the province is aware of the need to better connect the proposed rail line with the Metro.

He said the province would make an effort to push that idea during negotiations with the Caisse.

East-end Montrealers unhappy with light rail plan

7 years ago
Duration 0:31
Not everyone is thrilled about an ambitious, $5-billion project to build a light rail network with 24 stations.

Blue line dreams

The Parti Québécois called for a "balanced" approach to public transit at a news conference Monday, saying the rail line could mean the long promised Blue extension will be delayed by another ten years.

The borough mayor of Anjou, Luis Miranda, echoed that concern.

"I'm very happy for the West Island. Congratulations," Miranda said in an interview Monday.

Miranda has been lobbying for the Montreal Metro's Blue line to be expanded into his borough for years, but he's concerned there won't be enough funding to cover both the Blue line's extension and the train system.

He said the city's east end is more densely populated, and it makes no sense to favour the train project instead.

Maria Oliveri, a transit user, said the "Metro's something that's great, but they keep promising in the east
end to have something, and we still don't have it."

Quebec has already said it will pitch in cash for the rail project, though it hasn't yet provided an amount. Ottawa, though, has yet to offer a firm commitment. 

Questions of access

Ed Janiszewski, the mayor of Dollard-des-Ormeaux, said he still has questions about how parking will work around these stations and whether they will be easily accessible to commuters.

He added that he'd like to see the final price tag, once such infrastructure is taken into account.

​McGill professor Manaugh said the plan has a lot of potential to "get current drivers out of their cars" and motivate them to take the train, however, he raised a concern about whether it does "much to connect more socially disadvantaged areas to employment or other amenities."

He added that it's "important to recognize the importance of lower costs investments in improved bus service, bike paths, and safe, comfortable walking paths in addition to these types of high-profile projects."

'A bold step' 

Despite those concerns about access, Manaugh is impressed with the overall project, which he called a "bold step."

He called it a "quality low-carbon transport alternative" that will address the longstanding needs of the West Island, the airport and the South Shore. 

"More importantly," Manaugh said in an email statement, "this kind of 'public-public' financing could represent an efficient model for future projects."

By investing in such a big project, he said, the Caisse is showing "the importance of moving away from the current automobile-centric focus of transportation infrastructure." 

Manaugh said he and his research team plan to do a more thorough analysis of the project over the next few months.