Province brushes off damning report on Montreal's east end REM project

Transit planning agency ARTM says one of the largest public transit projects in Quebec’s history is too expensive, won’t attract many new riders, will duplicate existing services, and could be an eyesore. The CAQ government says it wants the project to proceed despite the concerns,

New report says REM de l’Est isn’t worth $10B price tag, money could be better spent

Construction of the REM de l'Est is supposed to begin next year but the ARTM report puts that in doubt. (Submitted by CDPQ Infra)

The $10-billion REM de l'Est light rail project for east end Montreal is in jeopardy after a new report from the regional agency responsible for transit planning, the Autorité régionale de transport métropolitain (ARTM), raised several red flags — including the fact that the massive project simply wouldn't attract many new riders.

But the provincial minister responsible for Montreal, Chantal Rouleau, waved off the concerns Tuesday and insisted the project will go forward.

The REM de l'Est is being built by CDPQ Infra, a subsidiary of Quebec's pension fund manager the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec. It would add 32 kilometres of track and 23 new stations to an area of Montreal traditionally underserved by public transit. 

The ARTM says the whole venture is misguided.

"The project will result in only a modest number of new public transit users," the ARTM said in a statement released Tuesday.

The ARTM report says much of the new project's ridership would be drawn from existing public transit services such as the Metro green line. (Ivanoh Demers)

"It poses a problematic competition issue with two major services of the existing structural network (the Metro green line and the Mascouche commuter train), which will still have residual capacity by 2031," the statement continued.

The ARTM report identified a number of potential shortcomings with the project, including:

  • Only 12 per cent of trips would be destined for downtown.
  • During peak periods, 94 per cent of ridership would simply be drawn from existing services (Metro green line and Mascouche commuter train).
  • Increased annual maintenance costs as high as $98 million would be borne by the city and neighbouring municipalities, creating a "significant impact" for public transit funding.
  • Concerns about integrating REM infrastructure into the urban landscape.

"In light of the findings that emerge, we suggest considering options that would allow for a project better anchored in a principle of complementarity with the existing public transit ecosystem," Benoît Gendron, head of the ARTM, said in a statement.

Report could scuttle project

The report puts the entire project in jeopardy.

"The support of the City of Montreal and the ARTM is necessary for the REM de l'Est project to proceed, CDPQ Infra will not impose it," CDPQ Infra said in a statement emailed to CBC Tuesday.

"We were informed last Thursday of the existence of this report, and will take the time to respond point by point," the statement said.

CDPQ Infra says The REM de l'Est will reach parts of Montreal that have long been underserved by public transit, allowing residents to reach downtown faster than by car or bus. (Submitted by CDPQ Infra)

The city said in a statement Tuesday it would also take time to study the report. 

Mayor Valérie Plante met with CDPQ Infra and provincial government officials last Friday to discuss the issue.

"The project must contribute to the development of the mobility on offer in the metropolitan region, to the development of the territory, and to strengthen the public transport network in a global way," the city statement read.

A coalition of mayors of communities north of Montreal also released a statement Tuesday.

"We are deeply concerned about the CDPQ Infra project which, in its current form, does not take into account the impacts on existing public transit networks," Denis Martin, mayor of Deux-Montagnes and chairman of the group said in the statement. 

The mayors encouraged the province to look at alternatives.

CAQ government insists project will proceed despite concerns

Premier François Legault, asked about the report at a news conference Tuesday, said he was open to changing the project, but he dismissed the ARTM's concerns and said it was now up to Plante to to make sure the project succeeds.

"We won't do this project if we didn't have the support of the mayor of Montreal. The ball is in Madame Plante's court to present us with a new project that suits her,"  Legault said.

Rouleau, the provincial minister responsible for Montreal, told reporters at the National Assembly Tuesday that the project will go ahead.

The CAQ minister responsible for Montreal, Chantal Rouleau, insisted Tuesday that the REM de l'Est will proceed despite the ARTM's concerns. (Radio-Canada)

"The REM de l'Est is the best project. We believe in this project.  It's very important for the economic development of the east end of Montreal," Rouleau said.

Rouleau earlier told La Presse the ARTM's report was "incomplete and not credible".

The REM de l'Est is a separate project from the rest of the REM network currently under construction west of downtown and on Montreal's South Shore, also being built by CDPQ Infra.



Steve Rukavina


Steve Rukavina has been with CBC News in Montreal since 2002. In 2019, he won a RTDNA award for continuing coverage of sexual misconduct allegations at Concordia University. He's also a co-creator of the podcast, Montreapolis. Before working in Montreal he worked as a reporter for CBC in Regina and Saskatoon. You can reach him at


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