Work has begun to modernize the 100-year-old Mount Royal Tunnel as it becomes transformed for a new generation of transportation.

Montreal’s Central Station will undergo a massive facelift as it becomes an entrance to the state-of-the-art Reseau express metropolitain (REM) line. 

The transformation is part of a massive, $7 billion project that will see 26 stations on the transit line.

“It’s going to be all modernized,” said Jean-Vincent Lacroix of the REM.

The Central Station stop will lead to a McGill stop, which will connect to the metro’s green line.

A platform and new station will be carved out of what currently is just a train tunnel.

“It should be the second most-used station of the REM,” said Lacroix.


100-year history

The train tunnel has played a significant role in Montreal’s history.

The five-kilometre-long Mount Royal tunnel opened on October 21, 1918 and was considered an engineering phenomenon at the time.

Workers started from opposite sides of the mountain and met in the middle, just 2.5 cm apart.

The passageway took six years to build.

“It’s what we used to call Canada’s first subway,” said Pierre Barrieau, a transportation planning lecturer at UQAM. “It’s really impressive that they were able to build the tunnel in a relatively short amount of time.”


New phase begins 

The first phase of the new construction began Monday near the Edouard Montpetit metro station.

A vertical tunnel will be dug 70 metres underground, a process that is expected to take a year.

“It's the equivalent of 20 (floors) between the surface and the Mount Royal Tunnel,” said Barrieau.

Several large high-speed elevators will then be installed to take commuters from the ground level to the trains in just 20 seconds.

The planned work means major disruptions on the busiest line in the rail network: the Deux-Montagnes line will be shut down between Du Ruisseau and Central Station for two years starting in 2020.

The entire rail system is expected to be operational by 2021.

“It’s basically a 100-year-old tunnel which is going to be running 21st century trains,” said Barrieau. “Let’s not forget that this tunnel is going to be used for at least a century, if not two or three afterwards.”