A buzz of excitement hung in the air this summer as Montreal’s most important infrastructure project in more than a half century began operations with the official opening of Phase 1 of the city’s automated light-rail train Réseau express métropolitain (REM).
The $7.9-billion network under construction is largely funded by Quebec’s pension fund manager, the Caisse de depôt et placements du Québec (CDPQ). CEO Charles Emond said the funding model, which involved a $1.28-billion loan from the Canada Infrastructure Bank, could be used for future projects.
“We’ve proven, we can build constructive partnerships and share the same values. We can help our communities grow sustainably and we’ll use that as a blueprint going forward for sure,” he said in an interview at Central Station following the train’s inaugural run.
Emond also said the REM model can be exported to other communities.
CIB chief executive officer Ehren Cory said the transit line’s Phase 1 opening underlines its impact and potential.
“I really think the REM project can be a model for how other cities and jurisdictions pursue their transit goals,” he said after representing the federal Crown corporation at the opening ceremonies.
Cory said the project will start to show the shared benefits of this unique partnership.
“I fully expect the REM will show the benefits of our unique kind of partnership between an institutional investor like the CDPQ … and governments.”
He said the CIB acts to help unstick such projects and make them work economically.
The private-public partnership (PPP) model could be adopted for the proposed high frequency rail project between Quebec City and Toronto, Cory said, adding the federal government is taking lessons learned from REM and applying them there.
“I think other cities and provinces are going to recognize this is the only way we can really meet our full ambition in building the transit systems we need, and more generally the infrastructure we need if we want to be successful, economically prosperous and meet our energy transition goals going forward.”
He noted the new Samuel de Champlain bridge spans the St. Lawrence Seaway and carries a portion of the REM network was also a big project which used a PPP model.
The two projects show how infrastructure projects can be linked with multi-residential housing being built around REM stations.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault said the REM will change how people view collective transportation in the province with the model potentially being used for other transit projects.
He said it’s important for the federal government to participate in these large infrastructure projects through the CIB or on its own.
“It's not just me saying it. It's the unanimous view of all the provincial premiers. We need more help from the federal government to finance infrastructure. There's a lot of work to be done in public transit, in housing, in many sectors.”
Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez said the REM demonstrates how the country can “achieve great things” if all three levels of government work together.
“It shows the importance of the CIB, right. We know they (the CIB) can play a very big role. They played it here and they’re going to play it elsewhere in different projects.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau added the REM is a concrete example of the government’s vision of infrastructure to create good jobs, make life more affordable, improve people’s lives and protect the environment.
“Our vision is to continue to be builders across the country,” he said. “Confident countries invest in their future, in their people, and that's exactly what we're doing, and will continue to do.”