New problems in the Mount Royal tunnel will delay the commissioning of the Metropolitan Express Network (REM) by a year and cause costs to jump even further, Le Journal has learned.
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This is the third time in 18 months that the delivery of this electric train project piloted by the Caisse de depot et placement du Québec has been delayed (see below).
Rather than opening from autumn 2023, three quarters of the stations (20 out of 26) will not be operational before December 2024.
“The tunnel represents particular challenges due to the century-old explosives that we found in 2020 and an advanced state of degradation,” explains REM spokesperson Jean-Vincent Lacroix.
After the explosion of old explosives in 2020, additional security measures had to be taken, which delayed the work. A second explosion has even taken place since.
“We wanted to open the tunnel in the fall of 2023, but we saw that we could not start the tests before the summer of 2024,” said Mr. Lacroix.
However, these tests to run the trains last six months, which leads to December 2024. “This six months is incompressible”, assures the director of the Deux-Montagnes branch of the REM, Jean-Philippe Pelletier.
Calendar turned upside down
Since the tunnel is right in the center of the network, this had an impact on the schedule for the entire portion north of downtown Montreal.
Until recently, the Caisse promised the following commissioning schedule:
But now it won't all open until the end of 2024.
Over $6.9 billion
“Until the tunnel is delivered and tested, even if the infrastructure is ready on the other side, I cannot deploy the REM elsewhere,” says Pelletier.
He says he is hopeful of meeting the new deadline. “All the major risks are now behind us, all that remains to be done is work,” he underlines.
The problems in the Mount Royal tunnel have already caused the bill for the project to jump by several hundred million. The Caisse recognizes today that the most recent estimate of $6.9 billion will not be respected, but is not in a position to assess the extent of these new overruns.
As for the link to the airport, no date of commissioning has been set.
Despite these new delays, the Fund is pleased to have avoided a possible postponement of “two years” and entry into service in 2026, by reviewing the entire sequence of train tests on the network.
Initially, it was planned that the network be put into service in five sections from south to north, starting in Brossard and ending in Deux-Montagnes.
“Because of the issues in the tunnel, if we kept the REM deployment scenario from south to north, we would have delivered the REM around 2026, which does not work”, explains the director of the Deux-Montagnes branch of the REM, Jean-Philippe Pelletier.
Thus, CDPQ-Infra, the Caisse subsidiary responsible for the project, has decided to accelerate the construction of its transport center in Saint-Eustache.
According to Jean-Vincent Lacroix, this will make it possible to carry out tests north of the Mount Royal tunnel, without waiting for it to be operational.
"We're going to see [empty] trains running from the end of 2023," he said.
This is the third time that the REM schedule has been reviewed since the start of the pandemic.