Montreal tram project – From time to time, as works going on require tearing up the asphalt of some streets—like our beleaguered Ste. Catherine—some rusted rails, just a short distance from the surface, suddenly reappear. They are remnants of a bygone era when streetcars were the primary means of public transportation in the city. Around the world, especially in North America, the tramway was removed from the streets, replaced by the diesel bus. Half-century later, the tramway is rediscovered—it is a far more environment-friendly vehicle and more efficient too. Of course, with all the infrastructure gone—rails, poles for the electric wires, substations—reestablishing a few tramway lines, let alone a whole network, is a costly proposition.
However, just before the pandemic, Montreal was pondering the possibility of reintroducing this means of transportation. A projected line to Lachine was part of a new deal involving funding from both the federal and provincial governments. Quebec City had already advanced its plans for a tram. Toronto, for its part, never abandoned that means of transportation and it just finished replacing its fleet of 1980s streetcars for larger ones (built by Montreal-based Bombardier).
A report in La Presse just two weeks ago quoted a study conducted by the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal that concluded that tramways in Montreal and Longueuil would facilitate commuting by workers. In point four of its list of suggested actions by governments, the Chamber proposes to “Accelerate the launch of public transit projects under the Québec Infrastructure Plan by prioritizing projects that improve service in underserved economic hubs.” According to the La Presse piece, those public transit projects envisioned by the Chamber included the extension of the blue line of the metro to Anjou and tramway lines in Montreal and Longueuil. In the case of the South Shore city—an east-to-west corridor—the idea was launched in February by Mayor Sylvie Parent. Still, it doesn’t have Quebec approval yet.
The study on transit needs was conducted before the pandemic, and therefore doesn’t consider the effects working from home has had on the need to commute downtown. However, it is also true that any recovery plan for Montreal must consider some kind of revitalization for the city centre. Different scenarios must then be envisioned for the area. Assuming office work is not going to be as before the pandemic, in that case, downtown could be relaunched as a hub for entertainment and culture, or as a mostly residential zone. Whatever its future, the area will need an efficient public transit, and tramways could certainly do the trick.
Until now, all is projected lines, but none of them officially endorsed yet. Studies have not been conducted on them either, although a general perception makes them potentially feasible. Besides the already mentioned Lachine line, other possible tram routes are Notre Dame East all the way to Pointe-aux-Trembles, Park Avenue, Côte des Neiges, and the axis Ste. Catherine-De Maisonneuve as a surface alternative to line green of the metro. Some people would like to have a tram line on Mount Royal. In the east, North-south arteries such as Pie-IX and Papineau would be good candidates to have streetcars. They are both wide enough to allow for a dedicated lane as Toronto did with is successful Spadina line.
When the pandemic is over, and economic recovery becomes urgent, it would undoubtedly be comforting that after all, something good came of it: a better transit.
Feature image: Toronto, unlike Montreal, never abandoned the tram, now modern and comfortable vehicles complement the subway system