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REM service needs to step up, transport minister's office says

The REM service was inaugurated last July, and has dealt with many service slowdowns since then.   (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)
The REM service was inaugurated last July, and has dealt with many service slowdowns since then. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)

With Montreal's light-rail train network coming off a streak of four outages in as many days, Quebec's transport minister is calling on the group overseeing the service to step up its game.

Last Wednesday, the Réseau express métropolitain (REM), which connects the South Shore to downtown Montreal, shut down for 45 minutes in both directions during afternoon rush hour.

On Thursday, the service slowdown was due to a problem with one of the landing doors at a station. The next day, a broken piece of equipment was to blame.

On Saturday, a de-icing operation on the Champlain Bridge halted the REM service for two hours.

There have been many service slowdowns on the REM since it launched, including a rocky inaugural week.

A man looks outside the window of a crowded REM train in Montreal on Saturday, July 29, 2023.
A man looks outside the window of a crowded REM train in Montreal on Saturday, July 29, 2023.

The REM's developer has vowed to have clearer communication with transit users during outages. (Aloysius Wong/CBC)

On Monday, the office of the province's transport minister had a message for CDPQ Infra, which is the REM's developer and a subsidiary of Quebec's pension fund manager, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec. 

In order to encourage people to leave their cars and use public transit, "our public transit networks need to be working," reads a statement from the office of Quebec Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault.

"The problems from the last six months need to be taken seriously," the minister's office wrote.

Since last summer, there has also been frustration about sloppy communication during outages, something CDPQ Infra vowed to improve last month.

Minister of Transport and Sustainable Mobility Geneviève Guilbault made several announcements in connection about Quebec's automobile insurance board, the SAAQ, on Nov. 14, 2023.
Minister of Transport and Sustainable Mobility Geneviève Guilbault made several announcements in connection about Quebec's automobile insurance board, the SAAQ, on Nov. 14, 2023.

On Monday, the office of Quebec Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault said the REM service must improve. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

'Unacceptable' service slowdowns

The winter season was always expected to be the new service's biggest test.

So far, the month of January has been challenging, said Jean-Marc Arbaud, the president and CEO of CDPQ Infra.

He said some of the service interruptions have lasted too long.

"To me, it's unacceptable and the number of problematic events like these, long outages like these, should be close to zero. We should not be having any of them," Arbaud told Radio-Canada.

He said staff's inexperience with the training system is partly to blame. He said this week's outage that was caused by a a faulty landing door was prolonged by a mistake made while restarting the service.

"We're fully aware of of the inconveniences that this can cause for users," Arbaud said regarding the service slowdowns.