CDPQ Infra to begin $5bn Montreal light rail in April

CDPQ Infra, the infrastructure development arm of the Canadian pension fund, has selected the development consortium for its C$6.3 billion ($5.02 billion; €4.08 billion) light rail project in Montreal and plans to start construction in April.

Choosing which companies will construct the Reseau Express Metropolitain light rail project was CDPQ Infra’s last hurdle to begin building the 67km transportation system. CDPQ Infra went with a consortium led by SNC Lavalin and including Dragados Canada, Groupe Aecon Canada, Pomerleau and EBC. SNC Lavalin and Alstom Transport Canada were also selected to provide equipment for the project.

“The REM is now a reality,” said CDPQ chief executive Michael Sabia, adding that construction on the project will begin in less than two months.

REM is Montreal’s largest public transit project in 50 years. When completed, it’s expected to be the fourth-largest light rail system in the world.

The project is also notable for CDPQ’s involvement from an early stage of development. Canadian public pensions are active investors in the country’s operating infrastructure, but it’s a new trend among larger funds to develop greenfield assets.

In April 2016, CDPQ consolidated its infrastructure investment activities in CDPQ Infra to build its operational expertise as an owner-operator of major infrastructure projects in Quebec and elsewhere. The pension fund has since taken stakes in companies like renewables developer Boralex and eStruxture Data Centers, a company expanding cloud-based data services across Canada.

The cost for REM has increased by around C$800 million from original estimates. Since November 2016, CDPQ Infra has increased the figure from C$5.9 billion. The Quebec and Canada governments have each committed C$1.28 billion.

CDPQ Infra says REM will be transporting its first passengers in 2021.