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How High-Speed Rail Could be Exo-llent for Montreal

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

The realization of high-speed rail between Toronto and Quebec City would greatly improve mobility in each of the population centres it would serve. These benefits could be further multiplied if the implementation of high-speed rail is combined with upgrades to local regional rail systems.


Nowhere would this be more true than in the Montreal Metropolitan Area where high-speed rail and Exo Regional Rail could share as many as five stations and 80 km of track. If done correctly, high-speed rail could be used as an opportunity to reinvent an infrequent, unreliable, diesel-powered regional network into a frequent, reliable and electrified one.


Let’s begin with the Exo Hudson-Vaudreuil Line. Currently, this service runs all day but at irregular times due to sharing tracks with CPKC freight trains. Once high-speed rail is built between Ottawa and Montreal, regional rail service could use its tracks from Dorion to Gare Centrale. This means far more frequent and reliable regional rail service could be provided to a better-connected terminus. Network connectivity could be further improved by extending branches of the REM to St Anne-de-Bellevue and Dorval stations.

However, this is only half of the story of how high-speed rail and Exo could work together for each other’s benefit. Many people lamented the loss of the Mount Royal Tunnel with the construction of the REM, preventing its potential use for regional and high-speed rail. A possible solution is to build a second tunnel and its higher cost can be justified if it is used by both high-speed rail and regional rail services.



A second tunnel would greatly shorten travel times for both high-speed rail and regional rail services. For regional rail, intermediate stations could be added near Percival Molson Stadium and in Mile End, two destinations that lack proper transit service. It could also enable regional rail service through Gare Centrale so that people could get easily move across the region. With upgraded signalling, trains could run at high frequencies and sections of the regional rail network could be automated, similar to the Elizabeth Line in London. Upgraded signalling would also simplify the construction of regional rail stations within the tunnel, obviating the need for passing tracks.


The new tunnel would be used by the Exo St. Jerome Line and possibly a rerouted Mascouche Line. For the St. Jerome Line, a new branch could be added between Laval and Mascouche on tracks shared with high-speed rail. This would provide a far more direct trip from Mascouche and Terrebonne to Montreal, shortening the existing trip by over 10 km. The frequency could be increased to trains every 15 minutes from De La Concorde Station to Gare Centrale, providing a credible relief line for the Metro Orange Line.



The Second Mount Royal tunnel could also be utilized by the Exo Mascouche Line, though this would require additional construction. With the completion of the REM, Mascouche Line passengers heading to Gare Centrale will have to transfer at Cote-de-Liesse Station, adding time and inconvenience to their trip. A new tunnel connecting the CN St. Laurent Rail Subdivision with the CPKC Parc Subdivision would allow direct service to Downtown Montreal once again. If Mascouche is served by a branch of the St. Jerome Line, service could be rerouted to L’Assomption or even Joliette.


That’s not to say that upgrading regional rail would be without its challenges. With the exception of the Candiac Line, the regional network would have to switch to a completely electric fleet and non-shared sections would have to be electrified. In addition, building a new tunnel to Gare Centrale though feasible could be challenging given the number of buildings and utilities within Downtown Montreal. Fortunately, electrification is relatively cheap and there are many providers for the type of EMU that would be needed. Though aspects of the project would be complex, the benefits would be potentially enormous.


The potential synergy of high-speed rail and regional rail in Montreal demonstrates what is possible if we think about improving how people travel instead of looking at each problem in isolation. High-speed rail will not only make getting around ‘La Belle Province’ easier, but with careful coordination, it will make getting around ‘Le Metropole’ far easier as well.


If you want to learn more about how high-speed rail can become a reality in Canada, please check out Build It Right - A Study on High-Frequency Rail/High-Speed Rail in Canada.


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