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High Speed Rail
The Vision for Inter-Urban Rapid Passenger Transportation Corridors in Alberta

 
Greenfield high speed rail route Central AlbertaThe time has come to establish efficient, sustainable and rapid passenger rail corridors in Alberta, initially between Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton, and ultimately linking all the major cities in the province, creating a single dynamic economic region. Those corridors could include high speed rail, LRT, commuter rail, other forms of rapid passenger transportation or any combination thereof.


The critical factors for such a system to meet its potential are that they integrate well and are served by good feeder systems to and from other municipalities and people generators such as tourist attractions, high density housing, commercial power centres and major industrial complexes.

The provincial government has a rare opportunity to initiate a world-class integrated system at a time of economic prosperity, rapid population growth, as-yet undeveloped and relatively inexpensive land close to urban centres and an increasing public appetite to move quickly from one urban centre to another with the least impact on the environment.

high speed rail terminalDue to increasing capacity and safety pressures on our highways, the increasing public desire for alternative transportation, environmental and health issues and the ever-increasing cost of building, expanding and maintaining the highway network, the province needs to be visionary in developing an efficient, cost-effective, environmentally-friendly transportation system that concentrates on moving people quickly between the economic urban travel generators throughout the province.

Edmonton LRT across the North Saskatchewan RiverThe first step in creating this vision is to secure a series of city-to-city rail rights-of-way before the cost of purchasing the land becomes cost-prohibitive due to the continued expansion of land development. The ultimate vision would be a provincial rapid passenger rail spine linking the larger urban centres in the south of the province to the urban growth areas in the north. Regional transportation feeder systems would compliment and complete the overall vision.

high speed rail trainThe most viable means of putting such a system in place starts with the province securing land for rights-of-way. Knowing the location of rights-of-way provides for better municipal and inter-municipal planning of long term development and growth.

The second part is to form a P3 partnership with the private sector to provide the infrastructure, supply the train-sets, operate and maintain the system.

high speed rail locomotiveThe benefits of acting now include:
- Inflation and continued development will escalate the cost of acquiring land later;
- Inflation will escalate the cost of constructing the system later;
- The population continues to increase at a rate that will only make the concept of a rapid interurban passenger transportation system increasingly viable and desirable, especially in the Calgary-Red Deer-Edmonton corridor -- most studies indicate that such a system is viable now;
-Delaying or eliminating the need for costly highway expansion and infrastructure;
-Provides an opportunity for Alberta to construct a world-class transportation system that would integrate the province into a single economic global entity;
-The reduction of pollution and highway collisions would reduce escalating health care costs;
LRT Edmonton bridge across river- An electrified rail system is the most energy-efficient means of moving large numbers of people between cities and would therefore reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption significantly;
- A dedicated rail system would be a safer and more reliable transportation system in all weather as compared to other modes of transportation;
- Once built, a rapid rail system would have sufficient capacity to eliminate the need to expand the infrastructure well into the future;
increased productivity on high speed train- Passengers would be far more productive than if they were sitting in their vehicles in traffic and would reach their destinations 50% or more faster;
- The economic spinoffs of attracting business, industry and tourism would be significant;
- The opportunity exists to share funding between various levels of government and the private sector;
Greenfield route between Calgary and Edmonton- A rapid passenger transportation corridor could also act as a utility corridor for future water, power, telecommunications and other utility systems that would generate additional income from the corridor's use;
- Rapid interurban passenger rail service is likely to have as significant an impact on the prosperity and mobility of the province as the building of the divided Highway 2 corridor in the 1960's and the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880's.


One of the proposals on the table comes from Alberta High Speed Rail Inc., a company that envisions a downtown Calgary to downtown Edmonton dedicated double-track line with a stop west of Red Deer in 84 minutes using 300 km/hr trainsets. The route is proposed to be the 'Greenfield Route' west of the Highway 2 corridor introduced in the 1980s that would almost be a straight line between the two major cities. At each end of the route, the proposal suggests sharing rights-of-way with Canadian Pacific but separate track. The original proposal suggested a Red Deer terminal near Highway 11.

Modifications of the route will likely be necessary. One modification suggests that the Red Deer terminal be combined with a new Red Deer Regional Airport terminal proposed for the northwest corner of the airport property near McKenzie Road and the C & E Trail. Other proposals suggest that the line integrate with the LRT plans for Calgary and Edmonton although the province has already purchased property in the downtowns of each city for a terminal.

The Van Horne Institute determined in 2004 that such a system is now viable providing that the initial infrastructure is built by the province in much the same way as the province provides the infrastructure for the highway system. The study looked at a number of options including the Greenfield route which would provide for the fastest trains and the least conflict with existing uses.

Canadian Pacific freight train at LacombeThe use of the existing Canadian Pacific north-south right-of-way is also potentially viable but creates a number of challenges. Trains could still be relatively high speed but significantly slower than the Greenfield route. The CP option also creates potential safety and scheduling conflicts with freight movements, challenges with going through several towns and the necessity of major infrastructure improvements including straightening out curves, closing at-grade crossings and building a series of grade separations.

Another option is the existing Highway 2 right-of-way but the costs of adapting every interchange could be almost as high as a new dedicated route.

The costs of providing the infrastructure is huge but not unprecedented. Building the 4-lane divided Highway 2 expressway in the 1950s was very costly at the time but cheap by today's standards. And at the time, there didn't appear to be the traffic to justify it. The Alberta government has also invested billions of dollars in airports, the highway network including the ring roads for Calgary and Edmonton, LRT, oil sands, the petrochemical industry, the SuperNet, power generation and many other projects.

Alberta high speed rail visionAs a first step towards a world-class rapid inter-urban passenger transportation system, provincial investment in acquiring land for such a system will ultimately create a healthier, more environmentally-friendly, more productive, more efficient and stronger future for the citizens of Alberta.
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