🚈 Station Stories: Île-des-Sœurs

Welcome to Episode 2 of Station Stories, a series where we visit stations just for fun. Oh, and we rate them too. Most of the stations we see will be in Greater Montreal simply due to the fact that’s my proximity, but don’t count out a few surprising stations from further afield!

Last week we were in one of Montreal’s oldest transit stations, circa 1966. This week, we’re at not only one of Montreal’s newest stations, dating from 2023, but one of the newest stations in North America. Let’s visit Île-des-Sœurs!

REM stations substitute the Metro’s dark concrete interiors for glass and light

Île-des-Sœurs – or “Nun’s Island” in English – opened in July 2023 with the initial phase of the “Réseau express métropolitain” or REM. For those not familiar with the REM, it’s Montreal’s brand new light metro system. At the time I’m writing this, only the southern section is open, starting at Montreal’s Gare centrale (or “Central Station” in English) and heading down into the town of Brossard on the south shore of the mighty St. Lawrence River.

The mark of a truly modern transit station these days is platform screen doors

Line maps are present above the doors

I don’t want to focus too much on the REM as a whole, but we’re expecting – hoping – the complete system will open by the end of 2023 (minus the airport branch) which will make it one of the largest automated light metro systems in the world.

A view across the central tracks to the opposite platform

Like the Metro, REM platforms have screens to show the next departures along with other information

The REM’s Île-des-Sœurs station is technically located in Montreal as part of the borough of Verdun, but as the name implies it’s actually located on an island which is part of the Hochelaga Archipelago located in the Saint Lawrence River. This makes it a very unique station on the network and arguably the spiritual cousin of the Metro’s Jean-Drapeau station located on the neighbouring St Helen’s island. Yes, we’re in a part of Greater Montreal with interesting geography.

The station platforms sit between two lanes of a major highway bringing traffic from the South Shore into Montreal

A view of the station's spacious ground level replete with seating and lifts

Ascent to platform level is possible by stairs, escalator or lifts

Looking at the station itself, whereas each Metro station was designed by a different architect and were always intended to look very distinct from one another, on the REM they’ve taken more of a cookie-cutter approach. You won’t find the same variation in station architecture which makes the Montreal Metro so appealing, but what you will find is an airy station located above ground with lots of natural light.

Good way-finding will direct you to where you need to go

The ticket gates are close to the entrance, removing space for loitering outside of the gateline

Unlike the Metro, departure screens are by the entrance so you can know how much time you have to make it up to platform level

The locality served by the station – the titular Île-des-Sœurs – was an area of the city which used to be difficult to reach by public transport. The island was traditionally reachable by bus from LaSalle station on the Metro’s Green Line.

The stations ground level is very spacious

A system map by the entrance helps with journey planning

It seemed clear when they were planning the REM a station needed to be included on Île-des-Sœurs since the line passes through the island on the way to the new Champlain Bridge. Unlike the promised Griffintown station, this one was built as part of the initial section.

Like other stations on this stretch of the REM, it’s located right in the middle of a highway. However, unlike other such stations (Terrebonne, I’m looking at you!) its platforms are fully enclosed and you won’t find it an unpleasant place to wait as you’re protected from the noise, pollution and elements outside.

Two ARTM ticket machines are provided to purchase fares for all transit in Greater Montreal, including the Metro

If you're confused about which ticket to buy there's also this handy guide

The entrance to the station is beneath the highway, protecting you from the weather as you approach. The thoroughfare gives pedestrian and bike access to either side of the highway which flanks the tracks. Trains rumbling overhead might surprise you with their sudden loudness, but the REM has a long way to go before it reaches the decibels heard on the Vancouver Skytrain.

A medium sized bus terminal sits to the side of the station, and on the other is access to the Champlain Bridge and the developments surrounding the Bell campus.

In terms of decor, the station is clad in white tiling at ground level giving the station an almost clinical feel. The chosen colour is by design, as the stations on the REM will vary according to which part of Greater Montreal they’re in with white being the colour of the system’s core section. For example, travel further down the line into Brossard and you’ll find all the stations are themed in yellow. When the full system opens we’ll see blue, green and red in other parts of the network giving each section its own colour scheme.

The station entrance

Outside there's a bus station with a display showing next departures. Why can't we have this elsewhere on the bus network?

There’s not an awful lot nearby. Outside the station is a bus terminal, and within a short walk are several high rise apartment buildings, the headquarters of Bell Canada and a small shopping centre. Nothing which will bring in the crowds, but for people who live and work in the vicinity this station is sure to have brought a massive quality of life improvement.

The underpass connecting the two sides of the highway together

The adjacent bus station, future proofed with lots of room for future services

Nun’s island itself can be explored on foot or by bike, and being in close vicinity to the new Champlain Bridge with its bike path makes the station a perfect starting or ending point for some exploration. But unless you’ve a specific reason to be here, you’re probably not going to find this station especially useful.

Looking from the bus station back to the REM

There's solid cycling infrastructure in the vicinity to take you to other parts of the island, and beyond!

In terms of nearby railway infrastructure, well, take your pick. The station’s configuration of side platforms rather than a single central platform is a result of its proximity to the magnificent new Champlain Bridge which starts directly to the East of the station. In a rare act of planning foresight, the new bridge was built with a space reserved for transit. Without it, the southern section of the REM might not exist.

To the West, the line snakes around Pointe-Saint-Charles to avoid the giant rail yard, giving rise to its unexpectedly long journey time from Gare Centrale. A crossover just before the bridge gives the opportunity to turn back trains in cases of service disruption.

The beginning of the bike and pedestrian path over the Champlain Bridge

Looking towards the Bell Campus, what could loosely be considered the island's 'downtown' area

A train approaches the station across the Champlain Bridge

The station itself lacks toilets, which is an amenity I’d have hoped would come as standard in any modern transit system. Although some stations on the REM will have them nearby, this is an unfortunate omission and far less forgivable in a brand new station than one built during the 60’s.

An information placard stands ready in case of disruptions

A view from the platform onto a waiting train

At platform level, the ceiling has a 'wood cabin' effect

One of my favourite things about this station and its environs is it evokes the same vibes as Tokyo’s waterfront neighbourhoods, with its bridges over the river, high rises and super modern trains whizzing by. It also evokes Vancouver’s Skytrain with its transit orientated developments (TODs), although this station is still too far removed from its nearby tower blocks to be considered a true TOD. My hope is the existence of this station will spark further housing development and infrastructure over the next decade.

Things do feel a far cry from the bustle of downtown Montreal just one station away, which shows the power of a transit network to quickly connect places which otherwise are hard to reach.

Trackside signage in front of the crossover for those rare instances when trains have to be driven manually

A view of the Champlain Bridge from a distance

One of the many residential towers on the island

The Ratings

Once again, we’re going to arbitrarily rate the station across eight categories. Ratings go from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest).

It’s hard to objectively assess a station which being so new has a lot of novelty to it, but we’re going to be fair and hold it to account against its sibling transit networks.

  • Layout: 4️⃣ Like most stations on the REM, the layout is functional and bog-standard. Similar to most Metro stations it has side platforms with platform displays to let you know when the next train is arriving. Platform screen doors are the biggest game changer here, and will make this a pleasant waiting area no matter the weather.
  • Services: 4️⃣ Frequency off-peak is roughly every 7 minutes, with every 3 minutes during peak. This is close to what the Metro lines offer, and I think an acceptable headway given this station is lightly used.
  • Destinations: 5️⃣ When the full system is open, trains will go to destinations in all corners of Greater Montreal, including the airport. You’ll also be able to interchange with 3 of the Metro’s 4 lines.
  • Architecture: 3️⃣ Novelty aside, the architecture of this station plays it safe and doesn’t distinguish itself from the other stations on this branch of the system. The anemic tiling all over the station has distinct operating theatre vibes, which I’m not sure is what they were going for.
  • Amenities: 2️⃣ Some basics: Ticket machines and a bike rack. No dépanneur or a staffed ticket booth can be overlooked, but a lack of toilets is inexcusable, especially given the lack of alternatives in the vicinity. A brand new station shouldn’t be scoring as low as this.
  • Accessibility: 3️⃣ This station appears to have been built with accessibility in mind. Lifts up to both platforms and level boarding on the trains should have make this station accessible for all, but, again, a lack of toilets is a lack of accessibility for many people and so easy points have been lost here.
  • Safety and Cleanliness: 5️⃣ The station seems spotless, and the regular presence of security guards throughout the REM and ticket barriers which are harder to jump make for a very different experience to using the Metro.
  • Locality: 2️⃣ To be blunt, there’s not a lot of reason to come here unless you live or work nearby. It’s possible in the future the presence of this station may change this fact, but for now there’s little motivation to visit besides seeing the nearby infrastructure, hiking or cycling.

Underneath the tracks of the Champlain Bridge

Tier List

It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for! Where does Île-des-Sœurs sit on our tier list? The answer is it’s a solidly respectable “C”.

To date, only 5 of the REM’s 26 stations are open and I suspect Île-des-Sœurs isn’t going to be the system’s crown jewel. Despite the novel nature of such modern system, it’s going to have a tough time competing with the Montreal Metro’s often magnificent architecture and central locations.

That said, at the moment it’s the only other station besides Gare Centrale which is in Zone A, and the views of Montreal on the surprisingly long journey between the two stations are some of the most impressive I’ve seen from a train. If you’re downtown with a Zone A day pass and have 30 minutes to kill – and even if you’re not a transit fan – you’d be mad not to take a short joyride to Île-des-Sœurs and back again.

If you want to learn more about Île-des-Sœurs station:

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