Canada

Exo chief Sylvain Yelle tells Quebec not to forget suburban trains

Exo's executive director is concerned the REM and REM de l'Est will undermine the province's commuter train lines.

Sylvain Yelle is the executive director of Exo, the commuter train authority for the Greater Montreal region.

With construction of the new Réseau express métropolitain going full steam, and planning underway for yet another REM in Montreal’s east end, the head of Exo says Quebec shouldn’t forget about the lowly commuter train.

In an open letter, Sylvain Yelle, executive director of the Exo commuter train and bus agency, said he fears the commuter train will play second fiddle both to the REM and the upcoming REM de l’Est and that this will shortchange hundreds of thousands who rely on the service during non-pandemic times to get to work.

“We have a network of suburban trains, and we have to better integrate the different modes (of transportation) in the region,” Yelle said in an interview. “The REM is a métro that has a certain frequency, but a suburban train is a heavy mode of transit that can transport more people and go further. The point is not to forget to invest and develop the train network to respond to the demand for municipalities that are a bit further away and that will be out of reach by the REM.”

Yelle said plenty of investments can be made in the suburban train network. Some of the projects on the Exo wish list include:

Yelle said he’d like to see a long-term plan put in place for Exo, but so far, different pieces of the network have been planned around the REM and the REM de l’Est, and no one is working on a comprehensive plan to optimize and integrate the commuter train service. The REM de l’Est was planned without Exo’s involvement and will have a huge impact on the Mascouche line, so Yelle wants Exo to be involved in the planning process for all future transit projects.

“The government is still supporting us and the investments we have made so far,” he said. “But we have to improve the service and the infrastructure so we can count on this service in the long term. It has to remain as a complementary service.”

Yelle said he’s not concerned that the Vaudreuil-Hudson line will disappear, but he said its role will likely change and could see a decrease in its number of daily riders, which will free up space in the often-crowded trains. He believes the parking lots around the train stations will continue to attract users, because the REM will have limited parking around its stations.

As for Mascouche, he doesn’t know what role that line will have if the REM de l’Est is built and said more studies need to be done.

“But we have to make good choices to develop and attract more riders, because if there is a decrease in overall customers, the cost of the service becomes more difficult to assume.”

He said Exo is already impacted financially by the REM because of the shutdown of the Deux-Montagnes line, which transported by far the most riders. Without the fares from that line, Exo’s fixed costs are now being divided among fewer riders and fewer train lines.

Yelle added that when the REM comes into service, it will cost $238 million annually to run — money that won’t be available for Exo.

“The REM will also bring more customers into the network, but there will still be a shock with the costs to assume,” he said.

jmagder@postmedia.com

twitter.com/jasonmagder

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