Light at end of the track
Published: March 1, 2008
Source: HENRY AUBIN, The Gazette
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idea of a shuttle train between downtown and Trudeau International
Airport is one of the most sensible ideas around for Montreal. It could
whisk travellers to the airport about every 20 minutes. Plus, if
extended all the way to Ste. Anne de Bellevue, it could provide the West
Island with a commuter line running far more frequently than the present
But the idea has languished - until now, that is. You can blame much of
the delay on the fact that only two scenarios have been considered, and
each has severe problems.
One of those scenarios called for using CP's right of way on the Rigaud
line between Lucien L'Allier station and Dorval, where the airport is
located. Existing passenger service now uses this route but because CP
makes more money carrying freight than people it can make room for only
a dozen commuter trains daily in each direction. Under that scenario,
new tracks would be built for the exclusive use of passenger trains. At
Dorval, the tracks would swing north to reach the airport, then return
to the existing right of way.
One the CP route's great advantages is that it stops at the Vendôme
métro, which is handy for transfers. That station is also at the
doorstep of a future major destination, the McGill University Health
But this route's problem has been that the terminus is Lucien L'Allier.
The airport's overseer, Aéroports de Montréal, is an ardent proponent of
a rail link but insists this terminus is unacceptable. Lucien l'Allier
is hard to access from many hotels.
The second scenario, which uses CN's right of way, has always been less
attractive. True, its Central Station terminus is closer to many hotels.
But the cost of exclusive tracks for passengers would be, according to
one estimate, about $800 million. That's several times the cost of
equivalent alteration of the CP line (only a small stretch of which now
handles freight). The CN line would also bypass the Vendôme station that
is so useful for commuters.
Suddenly, however, an imaginative solution of the CP route's problem has
emerged. The train would not have to end at Lucien L'Allier but could
proceed 700 metres west to Central Station, according to a confidential
document by the Agence métropolitaine de transport, the Quebec
government's overseer of local public transit.
The train's elevated path would loop south of the Bell Centre and pass
in front of the soon-to-be-abandoned Planetarium. Parking lots occupy
most of the route. Only one building would need to be expropriated. The
cost: $40 million.
Drawback? Several condo highrises would be within earshot of the
An alternate scenario is also under consideration. It calls for a
shuttle train leaving Central Station on the Deux-Montagnes rail line,
then veering off and reaching the airport from the north.
Drawback: This line would require a 1.5-kilometre tunnel under the
runways. The cost of métro tunnels is $150-million per kilometre, and
the cost here would likely be about the same.
Advantage: A tram or a tram-train (a tram that can run on street tracks
as well as normal railroad tracks) could use the Doney Spur and link up
with this line. The Doney Spur runs a few metres south of Highway 40.
The spur now exists only east of St. Jean Blvd., but I'm told that a way
exists to extend it to the tip of the West Island.
What are the chances of politicians ending years of fruitless talk about
a shuttle and approving either one of these schemes?
Better than ever. Both Quebec and Ottawa are now backing a shuttle in
principle. Indeed, the Harper government's budget this week earmarked
about $100 million for some kind of shuttle. Both governments are
awaiting a report by a team of consultants from Quebec, Ontario and New
York as to which of the scenarios makes the most sense. That report is
due in the fall.
The federal Conservatives hold no seats on Montreal Island. In last
week's CROP-La Presse poll, however, they had 22 per cent support on the
island - not that far behind the federal Liberals at 30 per cent.
Pollster Claude Gauthier says that, if the Liberals remain low and the
Tories can find high-profile candidates, they just might win a seat or
two on the island's western (federalist) half. A green light for this
project would help.
Unlike many election goodies, this vastly improved idea would be of
solid value. Better airport access would boost the city as a business
centre. And commuting would be easier than ever.
Henry Aubin is The Gazette's regional-affairs columnist.
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2008