Station Stories: Saint-Constant

Having covered a Metro station and a REM station in the first two episodes of Station Stories, it makes sense to complete the Montreal transit trifecta by visiting a station on exo, the commuter rail network.

There are a lot of rail stations in Greater Montreal which have infrequent service and are difficult to get to. They’re often in places you probably wouldn’t have a need to visit unless it’s for a specific reason, such is the sprawling nature of the region’s exurban development over time.

This time we’re visiting one such station, and it’s a far cry from what you’d be used to on the Metro or REM. This time, we’re visiting Saint-Constant.

The station is located on a line owned by CPKC (formerly Canadian Pacific)

The Wikipedia article for this station is quite sparse, consisting of a single paragraph which states:

Saint-Constant station is a commuter rail station operated by Exo in Saint-Constant, Quebec, Canada. It is served by the Candiac line.

That doesn’t tell us much, and since I had reason to use this station last summer I thought I’d be remiss not to write a Station Story.

A lone card reader greets passengers

Saint-Constant is a stop on the exo line between Montreal and Candiac and one of four stations which serves an area of the South Shore which starts just east of Kahnawake with the line stretching along Delson to its terminus at Candiac.

A shelter containing the station's single ticket machine

It looks like one of those “cookie-cutter” stations which are relatively cheap to build but lacks much in the way of charm, and remains in the uninspiring AMT branding which came before the current exo era.

This information kiosk contains a screen showing train departure times

It has some basic amenities such as a ticket machine, bins and shelters. Although whilst these shelters might be good in cold weather, they turned into little greenhouses on the hot day I was there. The few waiting passengers were sheltering behind the shelters as there wasn’t much else in the way of protection from the sun.

Upon closer inspection we see the screen isn't operational

Although there are two platforms, the second track appears to just be for use when the main track is blocked, and is far shorter than any passenger train. All departures were from the main platform regardless of which direction you’re travelling.

The exit from the platform takes travellers into a small retail park with ample parking

There were a couple of information displays showing the next trains, but one of them was inoperative showing a Windows error message. A single card reader allows you to tap in your Opus card before entering the platform, and the station is in Zone C of the new fare zones.

Looking along the platform in the Montreal direction

One thing which has improved is the availability of through ticketing thanks to the new zonal system. It wasn’t that long ago if your journey took you on the Metro, you’d have to buy separate tickets as the exo and STM fare systems were considered different systems. Now it’s possible to buy just the one ticket between any two points in Greater Montreal.

The station remains in the AMT branding preceding exo

In my case, I was able to get a single ticket from my local bus stop all the way to Saint-Constant including the Metro journey in between.

The secondary platform is considerably shorter than the primary one and is likely just used for emergencies when the main platform is blocked

Outside of the station, you’re greeted with a staple of the Montreal suburb: The stroad. However if you look over the traffic, you’ll see a preserved steam engine on the other side.

Welcome to Exporail

It looks out of place, but it indicates you’ve arrived at Exporail, Canada’s biggest railway museum. It’s the reason I was in this neck of the woods, and you can look forward to a future photoessay about the experience. Suffice to say, in true stroad fashion there’s no crossing between the station and the museum. You’ll have to walk a fair distance up the road – with multiple pedestrian-unfriendly turnings – to find a crossing. Saint-Constant really isn’t a place which welcomes anyone who isn’t in a car.

A phone point allows passengers to call the emergency services

Coming back to the station itself and the line which serves it, I was left with a few questions.

Unlike the passenger information display by the entrance, the one on the platform is in working order

Firstly, why is there such a poor frequency? If we take a look at the timetable we can observe a few things:

  • There’s only a total of 9 weekday trains in each direction
  • 7 of the 9 trains towards Montreal are concentrated in the morning before 9am
  • 7 of the 9 trains towards Candiac are concentrated in the afternoon from 3:30pm onwards
  • There’s no weekend trains at all – A majority of the exo lines suffer from this deficit
  • The first train to arrive at Saint-Constant from Montreal is at 10:05am
  • The last train to depart towards Montreal is at 1:27pm

By any evaluation, this is clearly a woeful service and follows a commuter rail mentality. The fact that four of the total 18 trains run outside of rush hour is a small blessing, but if you’re planning a trip into town and you miss the 1:27pm departure (or it’s cancelled), you’re quite literally out of luck.

The shelters on the platform might do a good job in the winter, but aren't well suited to hot weather.

Many travellers may just find it easier to take a bus to Panama for the REM. That’s a bonkers situation when there’s a fully functional train station right there.

A little reminder CP have their own police force

The line is so straight you can see the train waiting to depart two stations away at Candiac!

Worse still, Exporail unreachable by train at the weekends. Oh, and if you think you can get there easily by taking the REM to Brossard and then a bus, then I’m afraid exo doesn’t even run a direct bus here at the weekends either. It’s almost as if they believe you should stay home unless you’re going to work.

Another question I had was when taking a look at a map and following the track alignment itself down towards Candiac and beyond. We see it does in fact reach the town of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. It seems something of a missed opportunity not extend the service into this town where an apparent 12.7% of the population of Saint-Jean commute into Montreal.

If we take a look at the map, it's clear the line is as straight as an arrow

Lastly, I wonder why exo chooses to run loco-hauled trains instead of diesel multiple units (DMUs) which are more efficient for routes with frequent stops and similar to the norm in Europe.

Overall, this station epitomises all the issues with Greater Montreal’s regional transit, but the biggest problem is frequency. For most journeys which don’t involve commutes to and from downtown Montreal, this line is next to useless.

Another view up towards Montreal, where the following station would be Saint-Catherine

But the infrastructure is there! And we’ve seen time and again that when you introduce a reliable and frequent service people will start using it. There’s even enough of a case for this reasoning that an entirely new light rail network (the REM) is being built to serve similar types of suburbs in the region, so one has to ask: Why has the service to this part of the South Shore remained so bad?

The Ratings

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

  • Layout: 2️⃣ It’s a single platform with a single entrance and several shelters. A ticket machine and a departure display are by the platform entrance. Not much to get excited about.
  • Services: 1️⃣ 9 trains a day, mostly in the direction of rush hour. Quite pathetic.
  • Destinations: 3️⃣ Serves a number of communities along the South Shore with connections at Montréal-Ouest (Montreal West) for two other exo lines. Metro connections at Vendôme and Lucien L’Allier with the Orange line provide further onwards connections.
  • Architecture: 1️⃣ A single platform with a few shelters really doesn’t have much to offer anyone looking for anything more than simple desolation.
  • Amenities: 1️⃣ The station itself has a ticket machine and a few glass shelters. The shelters are basically ovens in the summer and there is literally nowhere to find escape from the sun. They don’t look especially warm for the winter months either.
  • Accessibility: 1️⃣ Whether or not the platform is accessible is irrelevant, the train doesn’t have level boarding, requiring climbing up steps to board.
  • Safety and Cleanliness: 3️⃣ I didn’t visit during the hours of darkness, but the station seemed clean enough and I didn’t see any evidence of anti-social behaviour.
  • Locality: 2️⃣ There’s a small retail strip-mall with a Tim Hortons as well as a bakery, so there’s somewhere sheltered to wait and grab a coffee or snack. Exporail is nearby, but beyond that there’s just nothing here that’s worth seeing.

Tier List

So, Saint-Constant is a pitiful station thoroughly deserving of an “E”. It lets down its local community and does little to entice people out of their cars and provide a realistic alternative to driving.

This station came close to the bottom tier, but is saved by the fact there’s at least a Tim Hortons nearby if you get stranded, and of course Exporail, which is about the only reason to come to this forsaken corner of the South Shore anyway.

And isn’t that the greatest irony of all? Just cross the road and there’s Canada’s largest railway museum celebrating the rich local history of the railway. Yet, the nearby train station is almost useless.

The thing which saddens me is it’s an example of how inaccessible vast parts of the region are without a car. I’ve lived away from the UK for some time, and I still can’t get used to the idea you can’t pick somewhere on the map and get there by train. It’s worse still that in cases like this the infrastructure is all there, they just don’t run the services.

If this station has also made you a bit sad, then enjoy this scenic ride over the beautiful Saint-Lawrence railway bridge on the way back into town.

If you want to learn more about Saint-Constant station:

Survived reading this post? You may also enjoy some less disappointing transit adventures: