Clifford Lincoln’s Billion Dollar Little-Train-That-Shouldn’t

Conceptual rendering of a Bombardier dual-power locomotive, to be purchased by the AMT

So the West Island Gazette is reporting Clifford Lincoln and a host of West Island mayors and other lobbyists are pushing the idea of an entirely new train to serve the southern half of the West Island. They are asking for one billion dollars (now that’s billion with a ‘b’ in case you weren’t paying attention) to build a new electric train that would speed West Island commuters from Downtown Montreal to Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue in thirty minutes. They also want to increase the level of service from 26 trains per week to 86. Right now the coalition pushing the idea has only gotten as far as an AMT-financed report (clocking in at $22 million and change) which will be ready next year to be brought before the government for approval. When asked about the hefty price tag, Lincoln was very quick to point out that the Province has crumbling infrastructure and thus needs to invest in it anyways, and further pointed out that the province seems to be able to afford such things as a new hockey rink for the Québec City area.

I’m not impressed with Mr. Lincoln’s lack of subtlety, but if it works with West island voters who can blame him for defining this issue as a typically provincial ‘us vs. them’ kind of affair. He may think he’s doing right by his people, but I sincerely doubt this card will play in Québec City. It’s not about hockey rinks (which would be paid off on a shorter time-span and provide countless indirect jobs as most venues do); the issue is graft – and this project smells to high-hell of it.

This map details the current AMT routes and proposed routes for future development. As you may well know, the AMT and the Aeroports de Montréal(ADM) have been arguing incessantly with the provincial government about how Trudeau Airport is to be connected to the Central Business District. The Train de l’Ouest plan mentions a stop in Dorval, though not necessarily at the airport. And while it is conceivable that the train would be able to offer this key service, there’s nothing indicating that Lincoln’s lobby-group has been in discussion with the ADM about using the new train station built into Trudeau Airport.

If this wasn’t problematic enough, the speed (30 minutes from downtown to Ste-Anne’s) seems highly improbable unless the train is to be built on a segregated track, at which point it could travel at exceptionally fast speeds and not get jammed up by freight trains sharing the line, though I wonder if this 30 minutes includes stopping at any of the stations. This means building a segregated rail line next to the existing rail lines used by CN, CP, VIA and the AMT along the Highway 20 corridor. Is there enough space to do so? And would constructing this new line disrupt service on the existing lines? And remember that bit about crumbling infrastructure? The last time I checked CN and CP own the track, and not the province. Nice try Cliff.

Map of Proposed Train de l'Ouest Route

Mr. Lincoln also wants electric locomotives as a means to cut costs long-term in addition to providing an ecologically sustainable alternative to diesel-powered trains currently used on that line. While this is a wise choice for the environment, it also means the AMT will have to build new storage and maintenance facilities for the locomotives and cars. As service disruptions on the Deux-Montagnes line over the last few winters have demonstrated, while electric trains are less polluting, they require a greater degree of maintenance and have proven prone to failure if left outside in exceptionally cold weather (which is what the AMT has been doing for years – this may have shortened the lifespan of the train sets used on that line).

All of this to say that while I applaud Mr. Lincoln’s efforts to get the Province to spend money helping the citizens of the West Island, a billion dollars is just about the right amount to get the program axed entirely. What’s more, the latest AMT expansion project, the Train de l’Est, is going to cost less than half of the proposed cost of its western counter-part. You can find those details here.

I might add, the distance East is more than the distance West, and involves building new stations entirely. The Train de l’Est will use the Bombardier dual-power locomotive (ergo diesel-electric) allowing it access to Central Station as well as the newly-built double-decker passenger cars. Using the dual-power locomotives is more practical than using electric locomotives, as they can use all rail lines in the city.

So then, with that in mind consider this – what if instead of building an entirely new electric-only rail-line for a billion dollars, we invested in rehabilitating all the old branch lines and procured/developed a state-of-the-art traffic direction system? This way we use all rail lines more efficiently instead of building a segregated line for express service (effectively because express trains could be switched onto lesser travelled branches). Take a trip to google maps and try to follow the different rail lines criss-crossing the island. You’ll soon discover that there are many rail lines not presently being used, such as the one which runs from Central Station to just East of St-John’s near Hymus. If dual-power locomotives were considered for this plan, this currently unused branch line could be very cheaply converted. A small extension further West from where it currently terminates would allow this line to reach the hotel and office complex just across from the Fairview shopping centre. Developments of a pedestrian tunnel running under the highway would in turn mean West Island residents would have access to the downtown via a train station located in the middle of two of the biggest parking lots in the West Island. Dual-Power locomotives operating on this seldom-used branch line could run between the centre of the West Island and Gare Centrale and would cost a fraction of what the proposed Train de l’Ouest.

So why aren’t cheaper alternatives being considered?

In sum, it seems as though this fundamentally boils down to a “let’s get what we’re owed” mentality that wins votes in West Island ridings. It’s too bad too, because a less expensive project may actually yield a green light. It stinks of opportunism and seems so outlandish and inappropriate that one is only left to assume the corruption and collusion in the construction and infrastructure redevelopment industries is about as bad as we all dared dream it was. That, or perhaps people in positions of power, lobbyists etc, are simply trying to make a buck, ultimately off the people’s backs.

Ask yourself – who does that billion dollars ultimately belong to? If you don’t ultimately think this is your money, then you can’t complain for skyrocketing costs and epidemic graft.

3 thoughts on “Clifford Lincoln’s Billion Dollar Little-Train-That-Shouldn’t”

  1. Train de l’ouest:
    Dear Sirs:

    I am a senior citizen of the West Island. I originally came here as a boy of 11 years old in 1956.

    I have about 50 years extensive background in technology, primarily in Industrial electronics, process control and electronic control of heavy power applications.

    What we now refer to as the Train de l’ouest, I travelled to tech school in from Baie d’Urfe many years ago.

    I also have a road experience in Canada and parts of the U.S. of over 1,000,00 Km. in addition to my fly and drive experiences.

    With that premise I offer the following:

    1) As has been well said from MP Francis Scarpaleggia, the need for this train is extremely important. I could not agree more. The added technological potential from this also has potential for many other areas of Quebec. The details of this
    are far too long and detailed to post here.

    Also, in the technical areas I see the AMT as doing very well with this, although I would not want to comment on any issues that might appear akin to “back office politics” anywhere. I have seen to much multi-sided “verbal vacarme” in this area
    to feel comfortable generally in that arena.

    One of the thoughts related to the current efforts of the AMT to procure and use hybrid diesel-electric locomotives, partly with respect to the Montreal-St. Jérôme line.

    I have been aware for some years that the limits of feasibility for putting diesel locomotives through the Mount-Royal tunnel amount to only one per 7 hours. This is so limited that it might as well be nil. Thus this tunnel, so important for so long demand we make good use of electric locomotives.

    At the same time, the 25 Kv. overhead gantry lines used for the locomotives on the very successful 2 mountains line are not necessarily practical for all of the other lines, existing or to come.

    Therefore any trains that would best arrive downtown at Central station need to have diesel electric locomotives. This also could be a part of the train de l’ouest story.
    I was very pleased last year to see that the Quebec government had accorded some $250,000,000.00 to a study of the feasibility of the Train de l’ouest, however I would have seen that sum as very reasonable to do the actual job, rather than as a study.

    This, by no means should abrogate the need for an adequate study, with reasonable costs there, and under auspices that would forestall any use of the procedures to concurrently serve any ulterior benefits, such possible benefits to be viewed as akin to conflicts of interest.

    For the actual job done, and all start-up issues debugged, I would have no complaint if the cost went to $300 million.

    Having found out from a CN employee (name unknown) that the original cost for the 2 mountains train was some $300 million, but my technical experience suggests that this was money very well spent.

    When I use the 2 mountains train exiting Montreal in the afternoon rush hour, I know I would usually have to board the train some 30 minutes before departure if I want to have a seat. Otherwise it is “Sardine can standing room”.

    At the beginning of this year, I noticed that the AMT has plans to alleviate this by extending the existing limits of the double rails on this line, allowing for more frequent trains in a given period.

    This is also a bigger project than merely adding tracks. There are 2 bridges that will need major improvements or rebuilding to do this adequately.

    For the train de l’ouest, we are at a time when we badly need to deal aggressively, but also controlling any potential misuse of the need, with the train de l’ouest.
    Train de l’ouest & Trudeau Airport:

    With the current construction in regards to Trudeau Airport, there is a lot of critical land in a state of construction. Added to this, the area east of the Dorval VIA station, and north of the existing tracks is an old industrial area which
    would serve us better if redeveloped, providing it is first protected by an “anti-speculation zoning law”, taken as a social order provision or “loi sociale”, that the overall needs of society take their just priority over private interests, yet not totally abrogating the need to integrate effectively with the private sector.

    Already, we are a bit on the late side. Certain developments have already in practical terms, encroached on this principle due to land purchased by private interests that should have been “pre-reserved” long prior to protect against excessively expensive and unwieldy expropriations and other work-arounds.

    Approaching Trudeau airport from the east, in this area, the train de l’ouest could supposedly enter the airport grounds to stop in the vicinity of the Airport passenger terminal, except that there is too little land to do this on the
    surface.

    Added to that, to expect trains to go over top of the main rails and than down to an underground terminal would have 2 more issues to deal with:

    – Trains entering such an underground terminal would have to operate electrically due to ventilation issues.

    – The grade between such an underground terminal and the area where they would have to integrate with the tracks going downtown seems to me to be too steep for the available distance. Therefore I believe it would be necessary to have
    these tracks run in a dugout area for some distance east of their derogation to enter the airport area, thus reducing the problem of the grade to a limit which would be tolerable for rail vehicles.

    In the longer term this could be built over when the need for land in that area justified itself to that degree. This is similar to the situation I saw in 1970 in Toronto with the T.T.C. subway on the Yonge-University line, where it runs north of the Rosedale station towards Davisville. This was originally an open trench, as was much of the T.T.C. subway, but near the Davisville area they built
    high-rise buildings over top, both covering part of the subway, and making good use of extremely expensive real estate.
    While this approach will be more expensive here than in Toronto because of the rock- artesian formation we have here, as opposed to the muddy situation in Toronto.

    I see this as building, in a double sense, a “strong foundation” for the future of Montreal and the West Island, which bodes many potential benefits long term for all of Quebec.

    Diesel Electric Locomotion and Train de l’ouest:

    One might wonder why Diesel Electric Locomotion holds potential benefit for the Train de l’ouest?

    Considering the foregoing underground alternative to facilitate rail access to Trudeau Airport, there is an obvious need for electrification there. Given the distance from downtown this would suggest electrification from downtown this far.

    West of the airport, at some close point, the electrification might well be better off to end. At this point the locomotives would switch to diesel. The transition would likely be a matter of less than ten seconds, given the switching times I see on the 2 mountains line when they change electrification zones in motion.

    The transition would need to start far enough from the airport underground section not to cause ventilation problems when the diesel has to be pre-fired immediately prior to the switch, also, there must be an emergency siding to work around that zone in the event that a diesel transition should unexpectedly fail, and finally it must not happen on a grade which would add stress to the locomotive at an inappropriate moment. Added to that, the train must have enough speed when the transition is to happen that the inertia will make the transition as smooth and seamless as possible.

    Heading downtown, the electrification would give rise to the possibility of rerouting the new tracks into the C.N. Rails that go through Turcot yard and Pointe St. Charles to end up in Central Station, which is far more appropriate as a downtown terminal than Windsor Terminal.

    This is for several reasons.

    First, it allows far better connection with the Via and Amtrak services there, as well as many other commuter lines, and more to come. The Station is also far better equipped with restaurants and food concessions as part of Les Halles de la Gare. Add the Queen Elisabeth Hotel on top, and this is truly the downtown core and the underground city.
    What could better suit the rapidly growing diversity of Montreal?

    Already in the AMT’s plans is to reroute the St. Jérôme line via the Mount Royal Tunnel, adding more to the overall diesel electric approach.

    Construction related to this is already underweigh north of Lacadie circle where I have seen some of the future 25,000 volt support gantries half erected. These also are to serve the train de l’est which will integrate with this major rail junction currently being so much modernized

    Currently I see this line serving the heavy needs of the north eastern part of Montreal Island, avoiding the cost of tunnelling and blasting a metro to serve that need but beyond that it could eventually reach locations such as Joliette, Rawdon, possibly as far as the Mauricie, Shawinigan and Grand’mère.

    Beyond that, I would envision future service emanating from the area of Quebec City and Ancienne Lorette, via the Quebec airport.

    At this point I must finish because of other demands on my time, but the real comprehensive issue is still not all told.

  2. Forget about the Train de l’Est?

    It’s well-beyond that now, the line will be ready on schedule for service. They’ve installed the switches and built the stations and parking lots already.

    And we don’t already have the locomotives or the cars, this would need to be acquired; the locomotives that have been purchased are dual-power. Electric is not necessarily faster unless a segregated line is installed.

    Honestly, its almost as if you didn’t bother reading the article.

  3. Electrifying the Vaudreuil-Hudson Line up to Ile Perrot wouldn’t be bad idea considering the many advantages. It would be quieter, faster and energy efficient. Since we already have the electric locomotives, and the maintenance have already been planned it only makes sense to put up the catenary now. The problems on the DM line due to cold have largely ben fixed by now and with all new rolling stock electric only wouldn’t be bad at all. Now if they would cut their losses and forget about the Train de l’est they can get started on this side of Montreal.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

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