Why could the proposed Calgary Airport – Banff Rail (CABR) service, which has been identified as a priority project by the Government of Alberta as stated in the Minister of Transportation and Economic Corridor’s mandate letter be transformative to communities in the Bow Valley Corridor? For one, CABR can offer scheduled passenger rail service on a newly built rail line in the existing CP Rail corridor and eliminate conflict with the movement of freight.
The proposed CABR service is also to be connected to the Calgary Airport allowing express rail service, to downtown Calgary, before heading to Calgary West, Cochrane, Morley, Canmore and Banff. Just think of the live-work and commuter options that will be opened up on this new rail service.
But there are other transformational aspects to CABR. All the upfront capital costs are carried by the CABR proponents and the Canadian Infrastructure Bank under a Private-Public-Partnership (P3) model. Forecasts by the CABR proponents anticipate that 100 per cent of the operating cost of the train service will be picked up by the farebox, with the CABR proponents paying at least 50 per cent of the capital costs to build the rail line. This is a far better deal for the taxpayer than traditional public transit infrastructure financing.
CABR proponents have identified that financing for CABR works because the rail line can be built within the existing CP rail corridor at a fraction of the cost of a greenfield LRT project. Furthermore, CABR is adopting a three-fare model whereby first-class and premium economy, largely paid by tourists, subsidizes the economy fare that local commuters will pay.
While there’s a need to draw more people to Calgary’s downtown on CABR, there are compelling reasons to have fewer private vehicles accessing Kananaskis Country and Banff National Park. With Banff and Canmore adopting paid parking, the province of Alberta introducing a vehicle fee to visit Kananaskis Country, and the Banff management plan discouraging private vehicles to Banff National Park, all levels of government are seeking mass transit solutions to these destinations.
With CABR’s forecasted reduction of two million vehicles, significant greenhouse gas reductions can be realized. CABR’s intention to offer North America’s first hydrogen-fueled passenger train service means even further greenhouse gas reductions and will demonstrate Alberta’s leadership in energy transition.
Another upside to the CABR service is the quality of life associated with having the mountains more accessible without the need for a vehicle. This is a real differentiator when you want to attract millennials and address the tight labour market impacting our tourism and hospitality sector.
In her decision to support CABR, Premier Danielle Smith recognizes there are costs to the Alberta taxpayer. While the P3 solution goes a long way in minimizing that cost, independent studies commissioned by the CABR proponents indicate the Alberta government’s annual performance-based payment of $30 million will result in economic benefit to Alberta more than six times its contribution.
The message to the Alberta government is that the Calgary Airport to Banff Rail service is transformative. It will enhance the Banff and Kananaskis visitor experience, fuel Calgary’s downtown revitalization, better connect our workforce requirements with a place to live, demonstrate our commitment to energy transition and the environment while offering great value to Alberta taxpayers.
Let’s get on with it.
Bruce Graham, Executive Director,
Friends of Calgary Airport – Banff Rail