The Métropolitain

..Gerald and Louise Take a Tram Ride

By Robert Presser on September 2, 2009

Since Montreal is apparently flush with cash to undertake new infrastructure projects, a study by engineering consortium Genivar-Systra was commissioned to demonstrate the viability of a 12 kilometre tramway network for Montreal.  The cost is estimated at $500-$750 million dollars, depending on the scope of secondary infrastructure work that is included in the study.  But what would a trip on a Montreal tramway really look like?  Imagine if we could take a ride on the Guy Street to Jean Talon line?

tram-bw.jpgHere’s the scenario: simulator manufacturer CAE sets up a room with an exact replica of what a ride over the mountain from downtown to TMR would look like, but takes a very realistic approach based on Montreal’s lack of experience with modern trams and the inevitable design and construction problems and compromises we always face in this city.  CAE then invites mayoral candidates Gerald Tremblay (GT) and Louise Harel (LH) to experience the most realistic ride that technology can provide using a mock-up of a Bombardier tramcar at their Cote de Liesse location.  The following is an extract of their conversation as their voyage unfolds:

LH (boarding the tram): Wow Gerald, this is a really swanky ride! (Louise has been taking lessons in English slang) But it doesn’t look like the trams I’ve seen anywhere else in the world.  Wasn’t there a design that we could have used?

GT (wearing a Bombardier Rail Group dress shirt): Not really, Louise, since we were planning some routes like this one that had drastic elevation changes which required us to adapt a chassis design based on Swiss mountain-climbing trains.  I didn’t want to tunnel through the mountain because I felt that the tourists should appreciate Mount Royal in all its magnificence, now that we cancelled all kinds of revenue-generating real-estate projects in order to preserve its beauty!  So, only Bombardier was able to license the technology and build a prototype that matched our specifications.  It only cost us an extra $150 million for the rolling stock, but it was well worth it!

LH: Well, I’m all for supporting local industry, even if the collective has to pay more for the privilege.  Where are all the trains being maintained?

GT: It’s really too bad that we sold off all the land at the bottom of Peel Street for real estate development years ago, since that was the most logical place to have a rail yard to service the downtown and Old Montreal loops.  Instead, we had to locate the yard way out in the east end and contract with CN and CP to use an old spur to get to and from the maintenance facility.  We forgot to think about this infrastructure in the study – oops, my bad!

(The trip is now over the mountain and has passed through the intersection of Cote des Neiges and Queen Mary Road.)

GT: Wasn’t that trip beautiful!  Try not to pay attention to the residents of the Trafalgar and Gleneagles apartment buildings who looked so unhappy in their windows.  You see, we were not able to estimate the noise levels that the mountain-climbing tram design would produce as it engaged to make it up the hill.  They’re suing the city, but don’t worry, it will take them years to get their day in court.

LH: Why is there so much congestion on Cote des Neiges?  We’re barely moving!  I thought that the tram was supposed to provide faster service than the old 165 bus route.

GT: In order to make space for two parallel tracks along Cote des Neiges we had to reduce car traffic to one lane in each direction and eliminate parking altogether between Queen Mary and Edouard Montpetit. Yes, the merchants are suing us as well and it can take 20 minutes or more to go six blocks at rush hour, but this should be a message to those commuters married to their cars that Montreal no longer favours them.  Besides, even if they were to make it downtown, there’s nowhere left to park anyways – the 24 street parking spots left in the city core are reserved for hybrid or electric vehicles now.  Montreal is truly a green city!

LH: In my former political life, I always preferred to support the needs of Laval and the South Shore over Montreal in any case, so I guess I should ask how our new tram system helps the off-island communities, since we need those workers to come to Montreal for their jobs and entertainment, we benefit from the tax revenue.

GT:  If previous Montreal mega-projects are any indication, the tram system will probably end up costing 1.5 billion once a full-cost model is employed, so there will be no money to improve metro access to Laval and the South shore like those pesky suburban mayors proposed to Charest.  We will get all the money instead, arguing that “Quebec’s economic engine” should come first.  We have to make a pact Louise, that no matter who wins we will push this project forward, to give Montreal the romantic transportation system is deserves.

LH: I’m with you on that one, Gerald, since my party did not comment on the Genivar-Systra report when it came out, you can take our silence as sublime acquiescence.  As a potential mayor of Montreal, I have to think of my relationship with the on-island suburbs as well.  Is there anything for them in this project?

GT: Not really – our tram system runs within the boundaries of the city of Montreal.  There are a few proposals on the table that make sense for the suburbs, like a commuter train to the West Island linked with Trudeau airport, but so far we can’t even decide on a final route.  The mayors of Hampstead, Cote St. Luc and Montreal West missed an opportunity to lobby for an extension of the metro’s Blue Line to their territory, since the tunnel already extends a kilometre west under Queen Mary Road and creating a station in Hampstead, for example, would probably only cost $200 million or so, a mere pittance by Montreal standards.  Let them keep focusing on the Cavendish extension; I’ll stall them on that one forever.

(The tram arrives at the Jean Talon metro station and our candidates prepare to disembark.)

LH: Gerald, that was a pretty expensive trip.  The full cost of the Guy to Jean Talon route could be $500 million on its own, it took as long as the bus, you can take a metro to cover the same ground in less time and the infrastructure is already paid for.  Shouldn’t we just move ahead with replacing our aging metro cars and extend the Blue Line?  We could probably do it for the same $1.5 billion and pick up another 80,000 commuters in the process.  Those would be NEW riders, Gerald, not just people that we took off the old bus routes.  Wouldn’t that be a better deal for all Montrealers?

GT: No comment.