Train Rant: Airport Shuttle

A rail shuttle to Montreal's airport may be on the way if a decision can ever be made as to which track to use (photo from

While I and most would prefer to jet off to faraway lands during a Montreal January, many of us get our holidays during the summer months. We in the Montreal area have an admitted problem with our (lack of a) transportation corridor between downtown and the Dorval Airport *caugh* Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (can I call it Petia?).

Any well-off person will consider taking a taxi. Unfortunately they’ll likely fall victim to the constant traffic problems on the 20 autoroute. Taking the bus will yield the same results as there are no reserved bus or taxi lanes on this stretch of road. Another problem with taking STM busses to the airport is that unless you board the new 747 Express bus, which idiotically does not

From the Dorval bus station and existing train stations you can see the airport, but you'll certainly have to wait to get there (photo from

stop at the Dorval bus station, you’ll have to wait for the 204 (the only other bus that stops at the airport) at the Dorval station, which only comes about every half an hour. And this while the airport is within eyesight.

Having already begun montrositizing the Dorval Circle for increased single occupancy vehicles capacity, the people who oversee transportation have agreed that they would like to add a train shuttle to Petia. Seems simple enough. But in Montreal nothing is ever simple.

Planners, politicians and residents are presented with a dilemma of which track to use. From downtown to the airport the shuttle could use: The CP track, on the north side, which is currently used by CP (duh!) for freight and by the AMT for commuter rail service. It runs from Lucien l’Allier metro station to the West Island and beyond and trains would have access to all existing AMT train stations. The CN tracks are to the south and are used by CN for freight and by Via Rail for longer-distance commuter services like going to Ottawa or Toronto on a Via train.

My proposal: Extend CP line to Petia. Use existing quick, efficient route. The AMT seems to agree with me at the moment.

The CP line (yellow) and CN line (red): (photo from The Gazette)

Westmounters however live along the CP line and love the NIMBY philosophy, wanting no more rail traffic anywhere near them. I fail to see how they are more important than everyone along the CN line in St-Henri, Point St-Charles and Griffintown combined.

While Westmount’s city hall has decided to spend millions to build a brand new, underground NHL-sized hockey arena, which will be the city’s 2nd full-size indoor rink, they won’t put together whatever measly sum is needed for a proper noise barrier along the CP line. At some point we know someone in the Westmount administration had some sense, as part of such a wall was started at the bottom of Abbott Street but the project was never expanded.

Common sense should dictate that an existing train line going from Lucien L’allier and the Bell Centre, being the quickest route to Dorval, could be extended easily to the airport. From a logistical point of view it’s easier simply because it’s on the north side of the two lines and the airport also happens to be on the north. No need for any awkward train interchanges or overpasses. Just build a noise wall for Westmount. The CP track is the shorter, faster line. Just look at a map and see for yourself.

Many are instead arguing to drag our plane-bound along the CN tracks, including Gerard Tremblay and the Petia management. This plan would be far more expensive and would drag passengers slowly through the neighbourhoods of Griffintown, Point St-Charles and St-Henri, then under whatever mess of the Turcot Interchange happens to be in store for us, along the ridiculous stretch of track between two lanes of the 20 autoroute in the Turcot Yards, then finally alongside the CP tracks. They think it is ever-so-important for the airport shuttle to have its downtown terminal at Windsor Station or Gare Centrale rather than the Bell Centre.

Honestly though, with all the AMT commuter trains that are going to stop there anyway, why not invest some money and build a proper train station between Lucien l’Allier and the Bell Centre? Anyone who’s been unfortunate enough to have to walk between the Bell Centre and Lucien l’Allier metro will tell you they’re not really connected. Replacing that ridiculous walkway with a real train station would make both spaces, as well as that whole block (for I

The Lucien-l'Allier metro station and Bell Centre: The area could use some work and beautification, and could make a good home for a real train station (photo from

don’t dare call it a neighbourhood) so much nicer. We’re trying to improve the city here as an overall goal, right?

Besides, with the CN line being used for the airport shuttle, what will happen when the train gets close to Petia and needs to cross over the CP tracks to get to the airport? Will they put a stoplight on the railroad tracks for the freight and commuter trains to stop at when the airport shuttle comes close? Maybe we’ll get a railway interchange, and they could style it like they’re planning to do the Turcot Interchange.

Richard Bergeron of Projet Montreal came up with a plan using the CP line. He unfortunately botched it by then extending it beyond the Bell Centre to Bonaventure and Square Victoria. This would mean having to build train tracks all over Ste-Antoine Street essentially making a long section of that street a tunnel and then plunging further tracks underground and into the financial hell of Montreal mega-projects. Again, why not build a proper train station between the Bell Centre and Lucien l’Allier? Maybe it could help lead to a neighbourhood developing around the Habs’ home.

Should no better solution be reached, we could always demolish the Bell Centre which would solve all of the downtown train problems. Did no one think anyone would ever ride a train again when they built it? The Habs could go back to the Forum. The Forum could be expanded onto the block just west of it to make it big enough. No one uses Lambert-Closse Street much and most of that block is abandoned now. Someone tell Mr. Bronfman not to go ahead with his condo plan for that block anytime soon.

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  • EXCELLENT rant, here.
    Some very good points raised.
    I have blogged a bit on this matter also, and include some interesting spatial explorations of a Master’s student in Urban Design at McGill, definitely worth looking at:

    Also, some links to other important comments, especially Henry Aubin (punchline: scrap the train link, the bus is working just fine! Use that billion to build better commuter links to the West Island):

    Also, a very sensible discussion of the options, favouring the High Road, for a handful of very good reasons, especially linking the Airport shuttle to mass transit. The old “feed two birds with one bit of bread” strategy:

    Let’s just HOPE they get his one right.

    How is it that Bergeron wants a smaller Turcot with better mass transit AND a privately owned, expensive train shuttle exclusively for businessmen?
    Is this position the basis of some superwise realpolitik understanding and insight that escapes us mere mortals?

    Maybe he knows something that we don’t know.

  • Look at the data concerning the hypothesis underlying the economics of the airport shuttle.

    It is assumed that the shuttle to Central Station would carry 3.4 million passengers per year and to Lucien Allier 20% fewer. These estimates were probably obtained by survey. How was the question put? Who was questioned? Were those questioned familiar with Montreal? If not, it is logical that a statistical bias would be created by the mention Central Station, it sounds more imposing than Lucien Allier. What impact will the 747 airport express bus have on the shuttle passenger volumes?

    With an estimated 3.4 million users, this would present 28% of the total number of travelers passing through the airport. Admittedly about 30% of passengers (that is 4.3 million) claim a downtown destination.

    But is this user ratio realistic? It means that 4 out of 5 persons who have a downtown destination would take the shuttle. This seems like a very high ratio, considering that the user has to walk 6 minutes to the airport station from the Canadian arrival lobby. He then pays $15, hopes the train is leaving within 5 minutes and arrives at Central Station where, unless he stays at the Queen Elizabeth, he will take another taxi to his final hotel . Or would he just walk out the door and take a taxi straight to the destination?

    This ratio is also abnormally high for North American airports. The airport with the highest ratio of travelers using transit is Reagan (Washington, DC) with 12%. This airport is just 6 km from downtown Washington and is served by two commuter Metro lines. The fare is $ 5 per passenger.

    Other airports have well integrated public transit systems. The best Canadian example is Vancouver with the Canada Line. Even there only 5% of travelers use the transit service, despite a low $5.00 surcharge for airport user. Other airports with rail or metro public transit are Portland (6%) and Minneapolis (5%).

    Does the shuttle cover its costs? If 12% of travelers take the shuttle that would mean 1.4 million passengers per year. With a fare of $ 15 per trip, this makes annual revenues of $21 million. But the operating costs of the shuttle are estimated at $24 million. So even with the highest user ratio in North America, the shuttle would loose $ 3 million per year. And if the use is at ratios that one finds elsewhere (let’s say 6%), the shuttle would loose $13 million per year.

    This loss is not critical to ADM because, let us not forget, it has the power to tax through the airport user fees.

    If the objective of the $ 600 million investment for the airport shuttle is to make getting downtown easier and quicker for airport passengers, it won’t attain its objectives. The majority of travelers will still use road transportation. And how do we make road transportation more fluid? Convince commuters to leave their cars at home and take the improved traindelouest.

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