Conflicting visions of Montreal’s planned new train link between the airport and downtown were presented separately Tuesday at a forum organized by the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal.
On the one side: the CEO of Aéroports de Montréal (ADM), James Cherry, and his project of a direct shuttle train between Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport and Gare Centrale. The train would be operated by a private firm and would run every 20 minutes, shuttling locals and tourists alike to downtown Montreal in approximately 20 minutes.
On the other, the president of the Agence métropolitaine de transport (AMT), Joël Gauthier, and his vision of a train line serving the entire West Island, departing from a new hub that would be built between Lucien-L’Allier and Windsor stations, and heading to the airport before then continuing on to Ste Anne de Bellevue. On top of answering the decades-long calls for an airport link to downtown, Gauthier’s plan would thus also seek to resolve the equally urgent need for better commuter train service to the suburbs west of Montreal.
Both swear by their competing visions; both are wrestling for public funds from Quebec; and neither seems willing to compromise on their pet projects.
Cherry’s adamance on Gare Centrale as the downtown terminus is understandable – to an extent. It is, after all, the central hub in downtown Montreal for Via Rail’s national train service and two (soon to be three) suburban commuter train lines. Hotels, businesses, restaurants and other tourist infrastructure is all within a stone’s throw.
And yet, a new building near Lucien l’Allier would be a mere two blocks away, barely a difference at all in terms of physical location or proximity to services. And it’s also the hub of three suburban train lines. More, the West Island has long been a neglected area of Montreal in terms of public transit, resulting in a car-dependent culture that is due for a challenge. The AMT’s plans promise to offer one, by tripling departures along the Dorion-Rigaud line.
More than this, the AMT’s vision is grander, more forward-looking, more visionary, more transformative: Not only does it kill two birds with one stone, as it were, but it also clears the way for the reemergence of the iconic Windsor Station as an active transit hub, bordering a revitalized and redesigned Dorchester Square/Place du Canada. The new structure, part of a massive redevelopment project piloted by Cadillac-Fairview, would be situated directly across St-Antoine from the station and joined to it by an above-street passageway connecting the buildings. Amtrak trains, commuter trains, buses to the south shore, and planned tramways would all converge at the new station, breathing new life into the historic structure which would now rival Gare Centrale as our main transit point. And is this really so bad a thing? Is not the restoration of so grandiose and imposing a structure at the heart of our city something to be applauded and hoped for? Or do we really feel like clinging on to the invisible subterranean hall we now call our Central Station, and continuing to neglect this gem of Montreal architecture in the process?