Caisse's Emond 'extremely proud' of REM's early success

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The Réseau express métropolitain officially went into service for paying customers on July 31, and broke down for roughly 90 minutes during its first morning rush hour. Nevertheless, the Montreal region’s newest transit agency has surpassed the expectations of its owner.

Speaking to reporters during an update of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec’s financial results Wednesday, CEO Charles Emond revealed the electric driverless light-rail system has achieved a 99 per cent on-time rate so far, ferrying an average of 25,000 riders per day between Brossard and downtown Montreal. The Caisse is the principal owner and operator of the REM through its subsidiary CDPQ Infra.

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Later, Marc-André Tremblay, a spokesperson for CDPQ Infra, said forecasts call for roughly 30,000 passengers per day on the REM when everyone has returned to work and school after the vacation period, so registering 25,000 per day during the construction holiday is a good sign.

“My expectations are naturally always high, but I would say that I’m very proud of 99 per cent,” Emond said. “We’re still in this training period, working extremely hard to make sure this train, which is a computer, reacts perfectly and gets there on time.”

He said the 99 per cent punctuality rate is impressive, considering that is the rate expected for transit systems after many years of operations.

“I’m not saying there won’t be any more incidents, but the reality is I’m extremely proud, because there is a sense of urgency,” Emond said. “We’re learning from every incident that happens, and the operator makes corrective measures. So far, so good. I’m delighted with the outcome.”

The REM is now operational in five stations over 17 kilometres, but the project is slated to eventually span over 68 kilometres and serve 26 stations across the Montreal region.

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Emond said the next two branches, to Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue and Deux-Montagnes, are projected to enter service by the end of next year — a “very aggressive timeline.”

Work on the REM began in 2018, and any construction delays should be compared with the timelines of other major transit networks, Emond said. Delivering a completed project in less than 10 years is impressive, he said, given that a high-speed rail link in California is expected to take 13 years to build, and one in Hawaii, which just began construction, and is expected to take 12 years.

“The speed at which the REM was built is nothing short of remarkable,” Emond said.

The Canada Line in Vancouver, which was financed in part by the Caisse, was completed in four years, in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

With the REM, work in the Mount Royal Tunnel was delayed by an explosion. The pandemic and global supply chain issues also hampered the project.

The most recent projection has raised the expected cost of the completed REM to  around $7 billion, but Emond has said he expects the projected price tag to increase again.

The Caisse expects to unveil an update on the cost of the overall project in the first two weeks of September.

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