Réseau express métropolitain opening day

By Harry Gow | Trip Reports

Jul 30
REM train crossing Samuel de Champlain bridge

Trip report by Harry Gow, President Emeritus of Transport Action Canada

Today Luc Coté, former editor of Transport Action’s national printed bulletin, and I took advantage of free rides offered to the public on the opening weekend on the new Montréal automated light metro, the Réseau Express Métropolitain (REM).  I got to Longueuil métro station using an EXO bus from Contrecoeur, and Luc picked me up from the métro to travel to Brossard, about 20 minutes drive away, to park and ride on the REM. There was a long line of people wanting to take the new automated train, so we joined the crowd and perhaps 20 minutes later we were in the station and were soon boarded, after receiving a “passport” which an employee stamped with a logo for the Brossard station.

The trip up the A-10, over the Samuel de Champlain Bridge and the impressive S-curves around Point St Charles, was quick compared to driving time, 18 minutes versus half an hour or more by car even with light congestion. The views of the St. Lawrence River, the Mountain, the city skyline from the train beat anything I have seen from an elevated railway before, including Docklands, and Skytrain.  At Central Station our passports were again stamped. Luc was recognised by an incognito but well-known senior REM engineer; they traded a few remarks and agreed to talk later.

After coffee and a muffin, we went upstairs to see the display of information and activities on the Place Ville Marie plaza, then came back downstairs to the concourse, and joined a huge long queue of people aiming to get back on the REM train for the return trip. This pilgrimage took over an hour, as the queue went right around the station with side trips into the tunnel to PVM and more. 

Back in the train we saw strings of trains in the coach yards below to our right. There were four new Siemens VIA trains, a string of boxy new double-deck commuter cars produced by CRRC Tangshan for Exo, and plenty of other equipment including an RDC-4!  We were amused when the train sped past slow-moving cars coming off the bridge onto Highway 10, and some children on the train waved at the people in cars as if to say “my train is faster than your car”. Back at the Brossard station, we went to Luc’s car and drove around the parking lots (over 3,000 slots) and the maintenance centre, then went for lunch in the Dix30 big-box mall across the A-30. This centre has a REM station shared with an apartment complex – “Le Quartier”.

Impressions: The new system is smart but spartan in look, impeccable, obviously well-run and (on opening day) glitch-free.  Seeing the chaos in Ottawa subsequent to a hasty LRT opening, the Caisse de Dépôt tested these trains rigorously and they ran impressively well.  They have some advantages: trains of an established design, high floors, classic bogies, running on large radius curves, etc.  Stations are enclosed and with the “portes palières” (platform doors) they will be warmer in winter than the usual métro/urban rail stations in Canada.

Riding REM trains will be more expensive than riding the previous bus routes – that was the only criticism the local medias had to offer today. I’ll hold back on my opinion of the way the Caisse has steamrollered the local commuter authority and everybody else, so I can stay on the sunny side of the tracks of this impressive new rail line.

Photo credit: CDPQ Infra

See also: https://www.londonreconnections.com/2023/how-montreals-rem-learnt-from-the-paris-rer-automatic-for-the-people