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The REM: amazing, beautiful, ridiculous!

There is now another option for those living in the Chateauguay Valley to get to downtown Montreal: the Réseau express métropolitain, or REM. Not only is it bright, new, and shiny; it is easy to get to, has loads of free parking, and it runs every three to seven minutes, 20 hours a day.

Amazing

It took 50 minutes to drive from Ormstown to the REM station in Brossard, and another 35 minutes to park to take the driverless train to Central Station in downtown Montreal. This compares favourably with the bus from Sainte-Martine to the Angrignon metro station, or a car during rush hour, both of which travel over the Mercier Bridge.

 

The REMs interior is bright shiny new and fully automated there is no driver PHOTO Hugh Maynard

 

The Brossard station is easy to get to; just exit Boulevard de Rome off the A30 and follow the signs. There’s plenty of free parking, but if you want to guarantee your spot it’ll cost you $10 using the Indigo Parking app (there are no pay stations on site). Don’t go to the Dix-30 shopping centre to park; you’ll get a ticket.

It’s a one- or two-minute walk from the parking area to the station, and another minute up the stairs onto the platform. For some reason they didn’t install an escalator, so if you’re mobility impaired then be prepared to take – and wait for – two elevators. What were they thinking? …Who knows!

Beautiful

Despite what you may have seen on the news, the driverless cars run fluidly, come to a stop smoothly, start again without a jolt, and are just as quiet (or noisy) as any European light rail network. And it didn’t break down. Combined with the scenic view of Montreal’s skyline and the St. Lawrence River from the Champlain Bridge, it’s a must-try trip into the centre of the city.

Ridiculous

The major deficiency of the whole system is the ticketing – the “ABCD” zone system designed by the Autorité régionale de transport métropolitain (ARTM) is a mess and difficult to figureout. There are only two ticket terminals at each entrance, and even on a quiet August 14 test trip afternoon there was a lineup because it just takes time, especially for tourists, to swipe through the many configurations of ticket types and make the payment.

 

The Montreal skyline as seen from the REM train between Brossard and downtown PHOTO Hugh Maynard

 

The ticket machines are brand new, yet there’s no Wi-Fi tap – so everyone has to insert their debit or credit card and wait to enter their PIN, resulting in additional delays. The machines also take cash; what the lineup is like at peak hours is anybody’s guess.

For the record, you want an AB ticket for $4.50 (single fare) that also lets you transfer to the Bonaventure Metro once inside Central Station. If you want to use an Opus card it’s even more ridiculous, as you have to get a second one just for AB tickets or it uses up your $11 Ste- Martine-Montreal ABCD bus tickets on your first Opus card. And then you need a third Opus card if you just want an A ticket to get around the island of Montreal. Six dollars each, please, renewable in person every four years.

The ticketing system is ridiculous in this digital age, but it’s still an amazing and beautiful train ride worth taking!

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