Montreal Quebec - The proposed Caisse de depot REM train, at least that part of it to the airport, West Island and Deux-Montagnes, should not be built.
Its route is inefficient, its technology is needlessly expensive, and it would harm existing commuter train lines.
By contrast, improving the existing West Island and Deux-Montagnes train lines would have none of these faults and would provide better service.
First, the REM train route to the airport is irrationally circuitous and lengthy.
It goes up to the north of the island and then drops down to the airport.
To ameliorate this, the Caisse has proposed that it would run express trains from Central Station to the airport in off-peak hours.
But then no one along this route could be served by this express train, which would stop only at the airport and Central Station.
As for service to the West Island, while the REM train route is closer to those living in the north of the West Island than is the existing CN/CP route, this advantage is cancelled out by the REM train's lengthier and slower route downtown, assuming this is where most commuters are going.
And those living in the southern part of the West Island may be harmed by the REM if it takes some passengers away from the existing Vaudreuil train, resulting in diminished service along this line.
This would affect also those living east of the airport who use this train, as well as off-islanders to the west.
The Caisse claims that the REM train would provide more frequent service.
But this benefit could be achieved more simply and cheaply by improving the existing West Island and Deux-Montagnes lines.
For the West Island line, what is needed is an additional track dedicated exclusively to passenger traffic, the existing track is shared with freight trains.
As for Deux-Montagnes, this line is already exclusively a passenger line, so more trains could be added.
The problem here, rather, is the need for more parking at stations, and/or better access to them by bus.
Much is made of the REM's advanced driverless technology.
But because driverless trains cannot safely go through level crossings, this requires elevated or subterranean track and stations, greatly increasing the cost of such trains.
This, combined with the Caisse's decision to use the Deux-Montagnes line to get to the airport and West Island, requiring a complete redo of the Deux-Montagnes line and the purchase of land to get to the airport and West Island, has greatly and unnecessarily increased the cost of the REM project.
This cost, of $5.9 billion, has led the Caisse to say that it will need an annual government subsidy to cover its costs and enable it to make a commercial return on its investment.
Unless the Quebec government covers this subsidy, the project seems likely to result in a significant increase in property taxes and/or transport fares, including for metro and bus, across the whole Montreal metropolitan area.
And what makes this financial burden worse is that the Caisse REM project will diminish the government's revenues from the existing commuter train lines.
In addition to diminishing the revenues from the Vaudreuil line, it would take over the Deux-Montagnes line, which has the greatest revenue.
And the train from Mascouche would have to transfer to the REM Deux-Montagnes train to go through the Mount Royal tunnel, instead of now going directly downtown, likely diminishing the use of the Mascouche train.
But this greater financial burden could be avoided if instead the government improved the existing West Island and Deux-Montagnes lines.
Then we could have the advantages claimed for the REM train, but with quicker service downtown, at lesser cost, and with less damage to existing commuter lines.