BAPE report on the REM project: An analysis that overlooks facts and distorts reality
CDPQ Infra has reviewed the BAPE (Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement) report on the REM (Réseau électrique métropolitain) project, made public on January 20, 2017. The review board’s report follows hearings held in August and September, 2016.
In its report, the review board makes several omissions and errors concerning the REM –a major project for Greater Montréal – and distorts the reality of CDPQ Infra’s innovative model.
CDPQ Infra’s collaboration in the BAPE process
On July 28, 2016, CDPQ Infra requested that a public hearing on the REM be held by the BAPE because it was convinced – and continues to be convinced – that public consultation and support in a project of such magnitude are vital to its success.
From May to August 2016, CDPQ Infra submitted 17 documents, totalling 3,010 pages, to the BAPE. From August to December 2016, while the hearings were underway, CDPQ Infra filed an additional 105 documents, totalling 5,287 pages. The experts at CDPQ Infra also addressed 120 questions raised by the review board, providing 112 pages of answers. All these documents are available to the public on the BAPE website.
More than 1,200 pages of documents – notably those addressing environmental matters – were nonetheless overlooked in the review board’s report, which seems inexplicable considering that these issues are central to the BAPE’s mandate.
A major improvement to public transit in the Greater Montréal area
The report includes erroneous claims about the current state of public transit in the metropolitan region, and gives an incomplete and distorted view of the improvements the REM will provide to commuters.
The review board suggests “[that] it hasn’t been shown that the current public transit service offered in Montréal’s West Island is insufficient to meet the demand.”
This assertion is impossible to reconcile with the reality of West Island residents, who have spent decades demanding improvements to public transit systems serving their area. The shortcomings of public transit in the West Island have been documented in several government and municipal reports. The review board also omits to mention that Montréal is one of the only large cities in the world whose airport is not connected to downtown via a modern rail link, a situation the REM will correct via its western branch.
The review board also raises questions about the usefulness of replacing reserved-lane bus services on the Champlain Bridge with a new light rail transit service. The reality is that the reserved-lane bus service is currently saturated and doesn’t have the capacity to accommodate future demand, particularly due to the significant congestion created around Montréal’s downtown terminal. The impossibility of increasing public transit capacity between the South Shore and Montréal seriously impedes economic growth and productivity in the metropolitan region.
Introducing an automated, electric light rail transit system would resolve this problem, while eliminating greenhouse gas emissions produced by existing buses and offering users a greatly improved, more reliable and high-frequency service, running 20 hours a day, seven days a week.
In considering the Deux-Montagnes line, the review board writes that “during peak times, the trains of the Deux-Montagnes line are used well above capacity. Up to 8,450 people pile into the 5 rush-hour trains with a theoretical capacity of 6,500 passengers.” The review board then addresses passenger comfort (number of seats) and concludes that the REM would not bring any benefit to users of the Deux-Montagnes line.
In its description of the REM, however, the review board omits to mention its most critical feature: with 30 departures for Montréal at peak times (compared to the current 5), and 120 departures for the rest of the day (compared to the current 17), the REM will multiply train frequency on the Deux-Montagnes line by six. It will significantly increase users’ options and will be able to accommodate the increased ridership expected over decades to come, which the existing system does not permit. The result will be a much more efficient, fast and practical network for users – which the review board does not recognize.
Route and technology solutions adapted to meet needs
The review board raises issues regarding the REM’s route and technological choices, particularly the decisions to use the Highway 40 corridor and light rail transit technology. These questions demonstrate a lack of understanding of several aspects of the project.
On the issue of the Highway 40 route, CDPQ Infra experts have explained on several occasions why this corridor had been selected over that of Highway 20. In short:
- Several studies have already demonstrated the technical difficulties of introducing a high-frequency service in the Highway 20 corridor, due to the CN and CP tracks in this area. The Highway 40 corridor allows for the construction of dedicated tracks protected from interruptions by freight trains sharing the same tracks. These analyses were provided to the review board during the hearings.
- Because of the many tunnels required, construction of REM-dedicated tracks along Highway 20 would lead to capital costs of $3.5 to $3.9 billion (document DB28), or $1 billion more than those associated with the Highway 40 corridor.
- Finally, in the event that the Highway 20 corridor was selected, the work required to rebuild the Turcot interchange would extend the REM construction timeline by four to five years. The start of REM service would be postponed, even though current transit networks are already saturated.
CDPQ Infra analyzed various technologies before settling on a light rail system. The tramway option was considered. However, analyses show that tramway service cannot be as easily adapted to increased ridership, that it would increase traffic congestion by using existing roadways, and that it would be costlier to operate than an automated metro.
Finally, commuting by tramway is significantly slower than by light rail, making the tramway less attractive as an efficient means of transportation to meet the needs of users in the Greater Montréal area. The average commercial speed of a tramway is 20 km/h, while it will be 60 km/h for the REM. A trip from the airport to downtown will take between 18 and 26 minutes by REM, while it could take over an hour by tramway.
A seamless integration into existing networks
The review board is concerned about the REM’s hypothetical lack of integration into existing networks.
This concern is unfounded and overlooks the fact that the REM project, in its very essence, is based on a seamless integration into existing networks: it includes connections to the métro’s Orange, Blue and Green lines, to the Mascouche and Saint-Hilaire commuter train lines, and to Greater Montréal’s bus networks.
The report also disregards the Transport Act, which requires the government and CDPQ Infra to provide mechanisms for the integration of the REM into public transit systems. Since the project was first announced, CDPQ Infra has been involved in discussions with the ARTM’s transition committee, municipalities and transit authorities to ensure that the REM effectively integrates into existing networks.
Environmental impacts fully documented and compensated
The review board makes a number of errors and overlooks important documents – more than 1,200 pages, including complete biological inventories – in its evaluation of the project’s environmental report.
CDPQ Infra carried out a complete, in-depth study of the REM’s impacts, already greatly minimized by the use of existing rail and highway corridors and by optimizations made to the project before the BAPE hearings. Wherever necessary, CDPQ Infra has proposed a full compensation plan.
Notable mistakes include:
- The review board writes that “[CDPQ Infra] did not provide a complete portrait and a final analysis of the repercussions of the REM on natural environments.” On the contrary, CDPQ Infra submitted complete biological inventories (close to 800 pages – DA99), which built upon preliminary inventories (414 pages – DA5), both referenced in Appendix 4 of the report.
- The review board writes that “The expected reduction of GHG attributable to the REM would be 16,800 t. eq.CO2/year.” This figure corresponds to the preliminary estimate, far from the revised figure of 35,000 t. eq.CO2 in 2021, provided to the review board and referenced in Appendix 4 (DA101), but which the report does not consider.
- The review board writes that “the work done to optimize the project (…) must specify the expected repercussions of the construction work, particularly with respect to noise, air quality and transport management, and provide for impact mitigation measures.” The documents outlining the impacts of optimizations made to the route were submitted, but the review board does not take them into account (documents DA99, DA100, DA102, DA102.1 to DA102.8 and DA104 cited in Appendix 4 of the report).
Limited and compensated use of agricultural land
The review board writes that “the proposal for the South Shore Station to be located on agricultural land is not justified.” This conclusion (1) disregards the detailed presentations and documents submitted by CDPQ Infra, (2) suggests no realistic alternative for the location of the terminal station, and (3) does not mention that the relocation of the South Shore station in the eastern quadrant of the intersection of Highways 10 and 30 would add hundreds of millions of dollars to the project cost.
The location of the South Shore terminal was chosen because it has the lowest physical, geotechnical and financial impacts, and because it is the only site large enough to accommodate terminal station equipment.
Furthermore, the proposed use of approximately 30 hectares represents only 0.3% of the agricultural land of the greater Longueuil area. The targeted land has not been cultivated for more than 10 years and is enclosed by the Dix30 shopping centre, a Hydro-Québec substation and two highways. Moreover, CDPQ Infra has committed to submit a complete compensation plan, including the conversion of an equivalent area of non-agricultural lands into agricultural land, to the satisfaction of stakeholders.
CDPQ Infra will maintain its open, transparent and consultative approach for the next steps of the project
Contrary to the review board’s suggestions, CDPQ Infra has demonstrated significant openness and transparency. As part of the REM project planning process, CDPQ Infra has, among other activities:
- Participated in hundreds of meetings with elected officials, municipal administrations, transit authorities, groups and citizens; and
- Organized 12 public open house evenings along the REM route, allowing for face-to-face meetings with over 3,000 citizens interested in the project.
These consultations resulted in significant project optimizations, which addressed the concerns of stakeholders and of the public. Over the past few months, CDPQ Infra provided updates to announce, in particular, changes to the route to preserve natural areas in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue and in the Des Sources nature park, and the addition of three new stations in downtown Montréal, completing REM connections to the metro’s Blue, Orange and Green lines.
For the Greater Montréal area, the REM represents the largest public transit project in the past 50 years. It is based on a new way of carrying out infrastructure projects, an innovative approach that aims to provide public transit users with an efficient, modern and high-performing service.
Since the project was announced, CDPQ Infra has created multiple opportunities to meet and consult with elected officials, governments and the general public. This openness and transparency constitute the best ways to generate support for this major project for the metropolitan region. This approach will continue to guide us over the months to come, as we work to advance the project, on time and on budget.
About the REM
The Réseau électrique métropolitain (REM) is a new, integrated 67-km public transit network intended to link downtown Montréal, the South Shore, the West Island (Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue), the North Shore (Laval and Deux-Montagnes) and the airport through the operation of an entirely automated and electric light rail transit (LRT) system. For more information.
About CDPQ Infra
CDPQ Infra aims to effectively and efficiently carry out major public infrastructure projects. Established in 2015, CDPQ Infra invests for the long term in tangible assets that generate stable, predictable returns for depositors of Caisse de dépôt et de placement du Québec. It is a subsidiary of Caisse de dépôt et de placement du Québec (cdpq.com), one of Canada’s leading institutional fund managers. For more information on CDPQ Infra, visit cdpqinfra.com, follow us on Twitter @CDPQInfra or consult our Facebook and LinkedIn pages.
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For more information
Jean-Vincent Lacroix +1 514 847-2896 [email protected]