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Canmore looking for answers on Calgary-Banff passenger rail proposal

“We are not at any point ready to commit to money on this,” said Premier Jason Kenney. “We have to give this very close rigor and that’s the stage that we’re at right now.”
20210720 Banff Train Station 0007
Banff train station. EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

BOW VALLEY – The Town of Canmore wants to make sure it’s on the right track when it comes to how a $1.5 billion proposal for a passenger train service between Calgary and Banff may affect this community.

On Tuesday (Dec. 14), council approved $100,000 for a study to assess the best location for a passenger rail station in Canmore and look at the impact of the Calgary-Banff rail project on the municipality’s transportation systems, such as Roam public transit.

Mayor Sean Krausert said he believes Canmore needs to be part of the process so the municipality can determine where, or even if, there would be a stop in Canmore as well as what else could be affected by the rail project, whether that be congestion due to additional trains, public transit or connectivity.

“It’s developing before our eyes and Canmore has actually no say on whether passenger rail takes place between Banff and Calgary, so in some ways, we’re responding to something that is beyond our control,” said Mayor Krausert, who put forth the motion for the study.

“With this information and other information that develops over time, I suspect there will be decisions that we’ll have to make as to what level of service around passenger rail that we would be funding, what would be coming with the project, and a host of other questions that we don’t even know yet.”

Last week, the proponents of the Calgary-Banff passenger railway service, Banff-based Liricon Capital Ltd., announced the project was moving to the design phase and was on track to be potentially up and running as early as 2025.

Liricon has partnered with Quebec-based Plenary Americas to submit an updated proposal to Alberta Transportation, Invest Alberta Corporation and the Canada Infrastructure Bank to move to the design phase.

The proposal is to deliver a passenger train service from Calgary International Airport to downtown Calgary, which could include an express service every 15 minutes, and on to the mountains in Canmore and Banff by 2025. The price tag has jumped to $1.5 billion.

Jan Waterous, managing partner of Liricon, said her family is thrilled that Plenary has joined as co-developers of the Calgary-Banff railway project, which she said has the potential to be hydrogen-powered – although critics note that is no guarantee.

“We now have a world-class development and engineering team,” she said.

“(This) allows our ongoing partnership with the government of Alberta and Canada Infrastructure Bank to advance the project to its fourth phase – design – and positions the project for success in achieving its fifth phase – construction – prior to operating services.”

The proposal is structured as a public-private-partnership (P3), which contemplates financing from private and institutional capital and the Canada Infrastructure Bank.

The aim is to operate on a new, dedicated passenger line built within the existing Canadian Pacific Railway freight corridor.

Under the proposal, trains would run at high frequency between seven stations – Calgary Airport, Calgary Downtown, Calgary Keith, Cochrane, Morley Stoney Nakoda, Canmore and Banff.

After last week’s announcement, Bow Valley residents had a lot of questions, including whether a train would be an ecological win and would reduce vehicles on the road or simply bring in more people to communities already struggling to meet current demands.

As well, there were also questions and concerns about wildlife mortality on the train tracks with more trains than the approximately 20 a day currently seen, and how a train from Calgary could potentially worsen housing affordability issues in Canmore.

Councillor Tanya Foubert voiced support for Krausert’s motion, adding there are many questions that need answering for the Canmore community.

She said she hopes the proponents will meet with the Town of Canmore to have this dialogue, too.

“I am really excited to find out things like how this will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, how this will benefit Albertans, how will it reduce congestion, how it will potentially fit into our community and benefit our community, how we might mitigate and work together with the other parties on this … another 10 trains through our town will cause traffic chaos so we ought to be thinking about this,” she said.

Coun. Foubert said there are also multiple environmental impact assessment statements that would have to occur.

“It’s not just going through a national park, it’s going through provincial parks, the Stoney Nakoda reservation, so it’s a lot of work to do,” she said.

“I think this is a signal that Canmore is at the table and wants to do that work. I look forward to more information.”

In 2020, the Town of Canmore indicated to the province it was not prepared to commit to rail service over bus transit until there’s a better understanding of environmental and financial impacts on the Town of Canmore.

In a letter, then-Mayor John Borrowman listed a series of items that Canmore would like to see included in any feasibility study.

They included indirect capital and operating costs to communities along the route; anticipated impact to greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the rail service and how emissions may be mitigated; the preferred location for train stations, the costs associated with locating and connecting new stations, including land requirements, and the source of funding for the building, maintenance and operation.

In addition, Canmore wanted research to consider effects to communities with increased passenger and freight rail traffic on a second line in the Canadian Pacific right-of-way as well as consideration for bus service improvements as a bridge to a potential future rail system, among others.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Coun. Joanna McCallum raised this very issue, saying the answers to these questions have never really been addressed by the proponents.

While supporting the study put forth by Mayor Krausert, she was also keen to get answers to the other outstanding questions.

“There are other questions the community has in addition to this. I just wanted to know if at any point we might come forward with another budget ask to address some of those questions and concerns and maybe do some modelling etc, but I will wait for a future date,” she said.

The Town of Banff, on the other hand, seems to be full steam ahead in its support for the rail project.

Banff Mayor Corrie DiManno said the Town of Banff is excited to see progress on this proposal to bring back passenger rail.

She said Banff needs convenient and affordable mass transit between Calgary and Banff as the solution to three priorities – reducing traffic congestion, cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and expanding a commuter service for the Bow Valley workforce.

“It would be wonderful to have people arrive without a personal vehicle, walk or cycle around town, then use our transit system to go anywhere in the park,” she said in the news release.

“As a town that strives to be a model environmental community, we also look forward to the possibility of a hydrogen-powered train leading the way for low-carbon transit.”

Under the plan put forth by Liricon and Plenary, the P3 and Canada Infrastructure Bank will contribute all of the $1.5 billion in capital costs and operate the system.

Their proposal seeks an Alberta government payment of $30 million per year for the project. Under this pitch, the government payments would not begin until construction is complete in 2025 and are contingent on the performance of the train.

The press release notes the Alberta government annual performance payment is covering less than half of the project capital costs and would be approximately 20 per cent of the equivalent cost of the province developing the project on its own.

Last week, Premier Jason Kenney said the province is closely studying the proposed project.

“We are not at any point ready to commit to money on this,” Kenney told reporters. “We have to give this very close rigor and that’s the stage that we’re at right now.”

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