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.

New Section: Pictures

Dividing by Zero (2009) by Taylor C. Noakes - Ink on paper, 12 x 12

Ola amigos –

I finally got around to getting some of my pictures scanned and here you go, they can now be accessed (along with running colour commentary) in the pictures tab located in the menu bar above. They’ll be fine tuned over the next little while and updates will occur regularly. Hope you all enjoy. Also, many of these can easily be purchased, in both print and original form.

So sit back, tune in, turn on and set the controls for the heart of the sun.

Ah, hippyspeak is awesome no?

MUHC Superhospital Plan Lacking Access (yet provides ample parking)

El Superhospital!

Who’d have thought the much maligned MUHC Super Hospital would come up short?

The experts who said ‘super hospitals’ were already obsolete? (relevant)

Or the pundits who want to know why our two-language health-care system is still, hopelessly, divided on the linguistic front (last time I checked, medicine’s language is scientific, not rhetorical – and aren’t all local doctors and nurses more-or-less bilingual anyways? – also relevant).

Or the architects who have been arguing against this ridiculous project for years on a wide-spectrum of issues, from lack of access, to infrastructure and cross contamination (speaking with one of these experts who came in to address my Montreal history course lead me to write this highly relevant article)?

And so, yet again, we find that the MUHC Superhospital project is coming up short once more, now with regards to pedestrian and public-transit access. It seems as though area residents are demanding better access to the new facility, and the typical cold-shoulder-wrapped-in-warm-n-fuzzy-pr-bs-response from hospital officials is that it is already accessible.

This is why I’ve stopped bothering to go to these public consultations – they (the Man, in whichever form) are not listening to you, they’ve spent so much god-damn time rehearsing their methodically precise answers they don’t have time to address these legitimate concerns. I doubt anything will come of this, given just how retartedly stubborn the government and MUHC has been what with this project.

Such a large facility is going to require multiple access points designed for high traffic. The more pedestrian or public-transit access points there are, the better it will be for the surrounding community, least to mention the more car spaces it will liberate and the chance for major traffic jams (pedestrian or vehicular) decreases proportionally. The MUHC has been touting that they’ll have an abundance of parking spaces, which will be useful given that the site happens to be next to two highways and the intersection of several major urban arteries. But not everyone should be using vehicles to get here, given the likelihood of traffic jams. This means that, among other things, ambulances will require their own access points, perhaps multiple access points. The MUHC wants you to believe that the Glen Road access point can be shared by both speeding ambulances and pedestrians, cyclists etc. Do you want to share a road with speeding ambulances? I didn’t think so…

Construction cranes at the Glen Yard Campus of the new MUHC Superhospital

Worse still is that the MUHC doesn’t yet seem to have a plan in place to handle additional traffic from Vendome Métro Station. Tunnels have been planned, but little more seems to have been accomplished. Further, while they are insistent that they will build two tunnels to serve the Northern side of the campus, plans so far only provide for one – pedestrians looking to access the site from Boul. de Maisonneuve are likely going to have to cross an open-air pedestrian bridge that will go over the tracks. Not exactly ideal now is it. And as for Southern access, well you can pretty much forget it.

Then there’s the issue of the traffic-jam waiting to happen when the hospital comes on-line three years from now and all public transit access to the hospital runs through Vendome station. Suffice it to say I’m looking forward to saying ‘I told you so’.

It seems as though the only real solution here is to bite-the-bullet (and who cares really – the project’s over-budget anyways, may as well go for the gold and at least ensure this project doesn’t become a total White Elephant due to lack of access – consider how lack of access has played a significant role in our other major White Elephant mega-projects) and spend a considerable amount of money on ensuring the site has excellent accessibility.

First, I’d highly recommend transferring AMT operations from the “Vendome Platform” to a bonafide train-station, such as you will find located at the far Eastern edge of the Glen Yards Campus at the old Westmount Train Station. While the inter-modal set-up at Vendome has been useful, it will likely soon become overcrowded. Running a tunnel from the Westmount station through to the hospital (and then back to Vendome) will allow for better traffic diffusion, not to mention commercial retail space which in turn could provide a steady revenue for our perennially cash-strapped hospitals. Situating another tunnel to connect the hospital under the tracks with the Métro station is a no-brainer, but it should be part of a much larger system that provides access to both ‘tactical and strategic’ access. Ergo, its not just the tunnels to the Metro and train station, tunnels must further allow access to the community surrounding this new site, especially the Southwest District. While a Glen Road access lane for ambulances is an excellent idea, pedestrians shouldn’t be asked to share this space. Instead, a tunnel under the Ville-Marie Expressway to the corner of Glen Road and St-Jacques could help ensure that this hospital can actually reach the community its supposed to serve. Another potential access point would be Ave de Carillon or Rue St-Rémi, coming up from the South. And of course, putting a new bus terminus on the southern side would allow for a better connection to communities like St-Henri, Ville-Emard, Verdun and Pointe-St-Charles. Point is, the architects of the MUHC project could easily transform this site into a major traffic hub, which may save the hospital’s reputation. If it can be used to guarantee a safe and secure method of getting between the ‘city above and below the hill’, then perhaps this project has a prayer.

But it will cost us in the short-term. That said, as far as I’m concerned, it’s completely worth it.

Mid-town Montréal, 1962

Apologies for the bad pic quality - found this at the Montréal Pool Room last Winter with Nelson, Isabelle and Gen

So I found this great aerial shot of Montréal’s “new” central business district while munching on poutine and ‘steamés’ at the Montréal Pool Room back two winters ago after a night of dancing at Igloofest – good times and highly recommended. There’s nothing more satisfying than boogying down to the electric boogaloo with tens of thousands of other Montrealers defiant to the last not to be brought down by Winter’s icy catatonia. Who says Winter’s for hibernation? Not I good sir, not I.

Here we can see the new Montréal, springing up along a new commercial artery. In a happy coincidence, the aerial rights over the Mount Royal Tunnel pit were developed at pretty much the same time as Dorchester Street (now Boul. René-Lévesque) was being enlarged into a major urban boulevard. Moreover, the old Windsor Hotel had suffered a partial fire in 1957 which had left a large plot of land open for development at Peel. Thus, between 1958 and 1962 Montrealers were presented with an interesting visual treat – the construction of three skyscrapers simultaneously and the complete and total transformation of the centre of the city, as Place Ville Marie (centre), the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, CN Headquarters (to the East of Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral) and the first ICAO Building were built atop the former ‘tunnel-pit’.

The skyscrapers in this picture, from left to right, are the CIBC Building (1962), Sun Life Building (1931), 1 PVM (1962) and the former CIL House (1962 – currently Telus Tower). Notice the two parking lots at the bottom centre of the photograph. The one at left would become the site of the Chateau Champlain and Place du Canada building in 1966-1967, while the one to the right would remain undeveloped until 1988. Ergo, if you can imagine walking down Peel towards St-Antoine in 1964, and were looking Southeast across these lots, you would have seen the impressive, elegant Tour de la Bourse rising from a mass of old victorian buildings. I believe there’s a five second sequence demonstrating this exact perspective somewhere halfway through Luc Bourdon’s Memories of Angels.

Also missing is the Terminal Tower, which would be built immediately to the East of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in 1966, filling up most of the block and completing one of the most seen perspectives of Montréal. It is this section of the city which has stood-in for New York City more times than I can imagine, precisely because it is one of the few areas of the urban environment where ‘the cavern effect’ can be effectively demonstrated. And unlike what you would find in NYC, our version is less overwhelming, what with our building height restrictions and what all (jesus, what’s with my interior monologue today?)

So what can I say – go take a walk why not?