It seems like forever that we’ve been arguing over which route should be taken by the new train linking Trudeau airport with downtown. In fact, I wrote about the debate almost two years ago.
Using existing railways, there are two possible routes, each of which ends at a different terminus:
- Using CP tracks that go through NDG and Westmount, ending at Lucien L’Allier station just outside the Bell Centre. This is the same path used by the Dorion/Rigaud train line.
- Using mainly CN tracks, passing through the Turcot interchange and St. Henri and ending at Central Station. This is the path used by VIA trains to Toronto and Ottawa.
This debate is in the news again because Aéroports de Montréal (which runs the airport) and the Agence métropolitaine de transport (which runs the commuter trains) are having a pissing match, refusing to give in on their choices. The AMT wants to use the CP route, because it’s cheaper and because it uses tracks (and stations) already used by the AMT. ADM wants to use the CN route because it leads to Central Station and downtown hotels.
Both camps are now using quantitative data to make their cases. Joël Gauthier, of the AMT, points to the fact that the CP route is significantly less expensive – $786 million vs. $1.1 billion. James Cherry, of the ADM, points to a study that shows ridership would be 22 per cent higher if the train ended at Central Station.
Various third parties are also jumping in, some on Cherry’s side making the Central Station argument, others on Gauthier’s side for Lucien L’Allier.
Despite what both these men think, the issue is neither obvious nor is there a desperate need to make a snappy decision. Yeah, it’s been years, but these studies are only coming to light now, and this kind of study is the difference between a billion-dollar project and a billion-dollar boondoggle.
That said, unless there’s some other serious study that needs to be done, it’s about time to make a decision. So let’s put all our cards on the table. Here are, from what I can see, the benefits of each route:
CP route (Lucien L’Allier)
- It’s about 30% cheaper (though ADM says private financing would cover the excess cost of the CN route)
- The route is shorter, and will probably be a few minutes faster
- It uses tracks used exclusively by commuter trains, which means there’s no conflict with freight trains east of Lachine
- There are already commuter train stations along the route, which means it would connect not only downtown and the airport, but also Montreal West and NDG
- Because it uses the same route, it could be merged with the Dorion/Rigaud line
- There’s space at Lucien L’Allier station to accommodate more trains (two tracks currently sit unused, its rails broken)
- Downtown terminus sits directly atop a metro station, with another direct connection at Vendôme
- Taking the AMT plan would put control of the project in the hands of the government instead of the arrogant ADM who have no desire to improve service to the West Island
CN route (Central Station)
- Better connection to the underground city and large downtown buildings (particularly Place Ville-Marie) and hotels
- Better connection with VIA/Amtrak inter-city trains
- A sheltered taxi stand is mere feet from the gates
- Just as the CP route could be integrated with commuter trains, the CN route could be integrated with VIA
- Warmer/more comfortable in the winter or rain, particularly if a lounge is built in Central Station similar to one used by first-class VIA passengers
- No worries about being caught behind commuter trains during rush hour (particularly if the airport train is to be a non-stop express)
- Could lead to the establishment of new commuter stations in St. Henri that would improve public transit in that area
- More likely to please rich Westmount people who don’t like trains in their backyards
- Following the ADM’s plan would involve more private financing, and the plan would be a privately-run system that would finance itself
- Central Station is pretty (though not that pretty)
Although I’m not 100% committed, looking at the list above I’m tempted to pick the CP option. It’s cheaper, it’s faster and it works better with existing commuter service.
Plus, one of the chief arguments against it, that Lucien L’Allier isn’t “central” enough, doesn’t really work for me.
The myth of the “central” station
I’ve done the walk many times between Bonaventure and Central Station, and between Lucien L’Allier metro and train stations. Not only is Lucien L’Allier simpler (as soon as you exit the station you see trains) compared to the meandering underground route to Central Station, but it’s faster and requires less walking. And this entirely ignores a second direct transfer point at the Vendôme station, which would be worked on anyway with the new superhospital coming.
Lucien L’Allier would probably require some work if it gets high train traffic (an elevator from track level to metro level would help), but it’s definitely a better connection. If we assume a large number of people taking a shuttle train downtown will switch to the metro, Lucien L’Allier becomes a much better choice.
That isn’t to say Central Station isn’t better located for those walking to their destinations. Place Ville-Marie is an escalator ride away, and more large downtown hotels are within walking distance, as the ADM explains in their slick video. The ADM study says the Central Station option would see more use, but I don’t know how much of that is real and how much is perception. (And if that were the case, why don’t all commuter trains go to Central Station?)
The stupid option
I should clarify something about the CP route: It’s not exactly what AMT is proposing.
Instead of ending at Lucien L’Allier, the AMT is proposing that the railway deviate slightly near the end, and cross a yet-to-be-built bridge to reach a yet-to-be-built intermodal terminus on the south side of St. Antoine.
It’s at this point that people bring up the fact that if the Bell Centre hadn’t been constructed in the way, the commuter trains would end at Windsor Station and we wouldn’t need to build a new terminal.
Though the terminal would be mainly financed privately, it would still be incredibly expensive – not to mention ugly – compared to the simple solution of just having the trains use the two unused tracks at Lucien L’Allier that sit right next to the entrance to the metro station.
Some of the criticism of the CP route is actually just criticism of this silly idea of the AMT’s, which involves a lot of wishful thinking and can easily go very wrong.
What’s wrong with just running a train from Lucien L’Allier to the airport? Or having the Dorion/Rigaud line run an airport detour? The installation of an elevator to the metro and a shelter above the platforms would make things a bit easier on travellers, but I don’t think the option is so awful, so out of the way that it has to be dismissed at great expense.
It’s the simplest answer. So why isn’t it the correct one?
UPDATE (May 26): Henry Aubin also comes out in favour of the CP route.