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$300 million secured for passenger rail

BANFF – Proponents behind a project to revive passenger rail service between Calgary and Banff have secured $300 million from the private sector – half of the money required to build the transportation link.
The owners of the Banff Train station (pictured in the background) have secured half the funding required to revive passenger rail service between Banff and Calgary.

BANFF – Proponents behind a project to revive passenger rail service between Calgary and Banff have secured $300 million from the private sector – half of the money required to build the transportation link.

Jan Waterous, who owns the Banff train station with her husband Adam, confirmed a private institution is willing to pay half of the estimated cost to build the new rail line as long as all three-levels of government financially support it.

“Our vision is that this would be a passenger train that would initiate in Calgary and stop in places like Cochrane, Morley, Canmore and Banff,” said Waterous, who has been working with stakeholders on the project for more than two years.

The 128-kilometre rail line is currently being studied by the Alberta ministry of transportation to understand the feasibility of reinstating passenger train service that hasn’t existed since 1990 when Via Rail stopped its southern passenger service.

Banff, Canmore, Improvement District 9, Cochrane and Calgary are all participating in the study and are candidates to provide funding to offset some of the operating costs.

According to Waterous, the study is looking at the potential of building a separate track that would run parallel to CP’s railway line.

“When Adam and I bought the long-term lease for the Banff train station, and then soon after the long-term lease for the 30 acres that surround the train station, we did so knowing that there is a 99 per cent chance that if we were going to bring passenger rail service between Calgary and Banff it would have to be on a separate track.”

CP has previously stated it supports the proposal so long as its freight service will not be hindered or disrupted.

Should it be built, a single adult ticket from Calgary to Banff is expected to cost about $15 one way.

“The group that conducted the study looked at a variety of price points and that was seen as one that was very reachable for most Canadians,” said Waterous.

Crunching the numbers, she said it will cost about $5 million a kilometre to build the rail line, significantly cheaper than the cost of building the Green Line in Calgary, which cost over $170 million a kilometre.

“Six-hundred million is quite a big number, but actually it’s a very reachable number when you compare it to other light rail projects throughout the country,” said Waterous, explaining the $600 million figure does not include the cost to build train stations and other infrastructure along the line.

She said the larger plan envisions the rail line taking passengers to downtown Calgary so they can connect with the city’s LRT system, including taking them to the airport on a yet-to-be-built spur line.

“That’s the ultimate dream,” said Waterous. “We have had discussions with the Calgary Airport Authority about a north-south link to the downtown Calgary station and it’s fair to say they’re very enthusiastic about the possibility of having a direct link into the airport.”

With the private sector already on board, she recently sat down with representatives from the Canada Infrastructure Bank to gauge the crown corporation’s interest in supporting the project.

“It’s too early to see where that’s going to go, but they have told us our project checked all the right boxes and they’ve asked us to come back with a more specific proposal, so what we’re waiting for now is the results of that mass transit feasibility study,” said Waterous.

Currently, there is no timeline for when the rail line would be built, however, it could tie into Calgary’s potential bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

“To build the track itself from Calgary to Banff, we have been told that the time frame is roughly two years,” said Waterous, adding the rail service could help get visitors to various Olympic venues in the mountains.

That being said, while she and her husband support Calgary’s Olympic bid, they do not want Banff National Park to host any of the events.

“We think it would be great for Alberta and Canada to have the Olympics here, however, we’re not keen on having any of the events actually in the national park itself because we think it would put too much stress on the park,” said Waterous.

While the rail service would help ferry spectators and athletes to and from the city during the Olympics, ultimately she said she wants to see passenger rail service to help ease Banff’s worsening traffic congestion.

“We got into this because we want to make Banff more pedestrian friendly,” said Waterous. “We believe the introduction of passenger rail would be a great way to get visitors into the national park without putting too much stress on the park in terms of traffic congestion.”

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