The fire at the former CN shop buildings in Point St. Charles last weekend appears to have destroyed the enormous 1928 locomotive repair facility with a loss to the Montreal economy that reaches well beyond the destruction of an important heritage building. In fact, this was no simple paper warehouse as reported by much of the media, but a crucial building whose loss will have an economic impact of epic proportions.
The city of Montreal as well as Quebec’s ministry of transport are both at fault.
The Point St. Charles shop complex was the last available facility for repairing and maintaining trains. Incredibly, CN sold it for $1 a few years ago when no one in the Quebec government had the vision to see the crying need for a major repair facility as commuter trains were returning to the rails in increasing numbers.
The current owner-developer had since treated the property as a junk facility, ever hopeful that he might eventually be permitted to tear buildings down. The city of Montreal aided and abetted this “small think” by granting a permit to allow 50 garbage trucks to rumble through the nearby residential neighbourhood daily, allowing delivery of huge quantities of paper into insecure storage in the main shop building that housed a gantry crane worth millions of dollars.
In September, faced with a surging demand for commuter trains and a need to consolidate maintenance for all five commuter lines, the Quebec government belatedly slapped a reserve on the property, with an eye to acquiring the shop complex for all AMT trains.
Note that this is the same facility that taxpayers could have bought for the bargain price of $1 a few years ago.
Now the Point St. Charles site will cost taxpayers many dollars more. How much? Depending on the extent of the damage, a new shop complex could cost taxpayers as much as $500 million. Taxpayers’ money literally went up in flames last weekend!
David B. Hanna
Past President of Heritage Montréal
The article shows once again how our politicians are hopelessly out of touch with current realities. In this case they acted like slumlords, as if in cahoots with the actual landowner, just waiting for a property to deteriorate to the point where any one of their absurd ideas concerning “development” would have seemed reasonable. Did they completely forget that trains need maintenance? Were they thinking that it could all be done underground somewhere? Well, we can’t sue politicians for being stupid or lacking vision, though perhaps that is an option worth looking at, but we can vote them out! This situation should cause a certain amount of outrage in the sensibilities of all citizens, because, yes, this actually did happen in your back yard.