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Committee puts brakes on Alberta’s high-speed rail line

The wait for a high-speed rail line will be extended for the Edmonton and Calgary corridor.

An all-party legislature committee is recommending the provincial government not to invest in the project at this time, but to begin acquiring the land needed for it.

A feasibility draft report, leaked to the Calgary Herald on Thursday, says the province is not big enough to make the multi-billion dollar project financially viable.

The committee met on Friday and made alterations to two of the recommendations in the report and added a fifth recommendation to open the door for private groups to proceed with the project if funds can be raised.

The report should be finalized soon, but will not officially be tabled when the legislature is sitting in October.

The high-speed line has been hotly discussed for the last 20 years but to this point a long-term transportation infrastructure strategy has not been set in place, one of the points put forth by the study and the committee.

“The recommendation is to create a strategic plan around a transportation and utility corridor,” said committee co-chairman and Lacombe-Ponoka Wildrose MLA Rod Fox.

He added that there was no specific population size listed in the report that Alberta needs to reach to make the line feasible, just that it’s not big enough right now.

For Red Deer, a high-speed rail line with a stop in the city would be a boon for the local economy and future development. At a February meeting in Red Deer as part of the feasibility study, John Sennema, the city’s manager of Land and Economic Development, talked about Red Deer becoming a provincial headquarter for high-speed transportation.

Chamber of Commerce executive director Tim Creedon said Friday morning that a high-speed line is critical to Red Deer’s future, but understands the time line for its construction is well down the road.

“High-speed rail would play a significant role in economic development of Red Deer over a long term period,” he said. “We are very aware of the fact that developing anything as large as this piece of infrastructure would be a multi-decade operation. It’s very difficult for us to say ‘X’ number of years, because there is so much work that has to happen before something like this could be financed and before any building work happen.”

Other recommendations included the identification of a route for a transportation utility corridor that would accommodate a potential high-speed railway and to begin acquiring the land and working with affected first nations.

Former Red Deer Mayor Morris Flewwelling said earlier this year that rising costs of land could be a major obstacle in the development of the line, especially if it is put off longer.

Another stumbling block is how the line fits in with the long term transportation plans for Alberta’s two major centres.

“One of the recommendations did focus on the build out of the light rail transit and regional transportation networks,” said Fox.

Though the specifics were not discussed, the committee did leave the door open with their discussions for private investors to fund the program by adding a fifth recommendation to the report.

“It was an interesting debate on the motion, it was more about what regulatory requirements would need to be in place for that to be an option,” said Fox. “There would have to be a study done on that.”

He says it’s too early to speculate on the cost, that this was a just an exercise to look at the feasibility of a rail line at this time.

 
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