Premier backs bullet train to capital
A multibillion-dollar, high-speed rail link between Calgary and Edmonton took a forceful step forward Thursday after Premier Ed Stelmach threw his support behind the idea. "We have to. We have no choice. It will reduce emissions and it's visionary. Now is the time to prepare because we have the options available to purchase land," Stelmach said. "It's part of planning for the future - there's no doubt about it - as the province of Alberta continues to grow and we see more people move to Edmonton, Calgary and, of course, the Highway 2 corridor." Stelmach's comments came in the wake of a report from the Conference Board of Canada calling on the federal and provincial governments to fully investigate the costs and benefits of high-speed rail links for both the Calgary-Edmonton corridor, and between Windsor and Quebec City. In April, the province bought land in downtown Calgary and in Edmonton that could serve as train stations and the acquisition of property along the highway. The think-tank's call adds momentum to the concept, which has been discussed for years but is now the subject of a $1-million market assessment study by the Alberta government, due in July. It's the latest in a series of examinations that have indicated the concept has merit. "It's certainly a new voice. There's already a lot of attention on the idea here in Alberta," said Jerry Bellikka, spokesman for Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Luke Ouellette, of the report. "You have to look at things on a business case and that's going to involve a lot of factors: whether or not there's a market for it, what the cost would be, if we have the population to support it," Bellikka said, adding the government has no plans beyond its current market study.
While a rail link along the Queen Elizabeth 2 Highway would seem like the most logical right-of-way, Stelmach said the government has also eyed Highway 21, which runs parallel to the QE2 about 50 kilometres to the east. Stelmach said past studies have indicated the train could reduce vehicle traffic by 22%. In Ottawa, an official in Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon's office said the federal government's upcoming infrastructure plan might provide some funding for a feasibility study. A Calgary group, Alberta High-Speed Rail, has floated the idea of a private-public sector joint venture that would see the Alberta government spend $1.6 billion to buy land and build the line, while western Canadian private investors would fund the trains and administration. "What we're proposing to build is a double-track electric line with TGV-style trains doing 300 kilometres an hour and taking 84 minutes to go from downtown Calgary to downtown Edmonton," said High-Speed's president and ceo, Bill Cruickshanks, on Thursday. Estimates of the project's total cost are as high as $5B. The premier said the project would not be solely funded through Alberta taxpayers' dollars, noting an equity partnership with Ottawa - or any other type of deal - isn't out of the question. Municipalities must also work closely together, he said, noting Calgary should be planning for future rail links to communities like Okotoks and Airdrie.
(Calgary Herald 070518)