Officials express enthusiasm for high-speed rail

Officials from Red Deer were enthusiastic boosters of high-speed rail at recent meetings of a provincial committee that’s studying the issue.

Officials from Red Deer were enthusiastic boosters of high-speed rail at recent meetings of a provincial committee that’s studying the issue.

Tara Lodewyk, manager of the city’s Planning Department, and John Sennema, manager of its Land and Economic Development Department, spoke at a Feb. 4 meeting of the Alberta Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee on Alberta’s Economic Future. Tim Creedon, executive director of the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce, provided remarks at a similar gathering on Jan. 29.

A third meeting took place on Feb. 5.

In official transcripts from the meetings, Lodewyk said that Red Deer has been planning for high-speed rail for more than 20 years, with such a system contemplated in the city’s long-range planning documents.

She suggested that Red Deer would be ideally suited to serve as a location for marshalling yards, maintenance, research and other support services for a high-speed rail system.

Sennema echoed this opinion, proposing that the city “should not only be identified as a stop for integrating high-speed transportation but should also be contemplated as a provincial headquarter.”

Lodewyk said, “For Red Deer, we are thinking about high-speed transportation not as an if but a when, and we will continue to plan with a stop to our west in our growth area.”

During his presentation, Creedon speculated on what high-speed rail would mean to Red Deer.

“Well, we believe that what would be created here in Alberta is a super region — Edmonton, Red Deer, Calgary, closely linked — with very strong transport and very quick transport between the different sectors.

“It would mean for us access to a much larger labour pool, a more efficient use and allocation of that labour pool, and a much larger market for business.”

High-speed rail would also make Red Deer a more attractive place to do business, said Creedon.

“More businesses could start using Red Deer as a hub for logistics, distribution and transportation, more businesses could use Red Deer for their manufacturing needs, taking advantage of that very same skilled labour force and related infrastructure, and we foresee that Red Deer could become a bedroom community for Calgary and Edmonton as well because of the lower cost of property in Red Deer being quite attractive when balanced with the need for people to work in Edmonton and Calgary.”

With representatives on hand from high-speed rail companies, conventional transportation companies, municipalities and economic development groups, aand transportation experts and consultants also taking part, the meetings produced arguments for and against high-speed rail.

Matti Siemiatycki, an associate professor in the department of geography and program in planning at the University of Toronto, was one of the critics.

“Even after a number of years, when you get to 2051, the ridership is still below that threshold that this project would need to really be economically viable on a purely financial basis,” she said, adding that high-speed rail produces fewer emissions than airplanes but has been found to be comparable to cars and buses when it comes to a carbon footprint.

“To spend a lot of money or time on a corridor that may or may not take place for many years, likely decades, until it’s viable in the future, to me seems secondary to other investments that would probably have a higher priority and benefit.

Alexander Metcalf, president of Transportation Economics & Management Systems — a Canadian company that evaluates major transportation projects in North America — said the time is right for high-speed rail in Alberta.

He said a system capable of carrying passengers at speeds of 200 to 220 m.p.h. (320 to 355 km/h) would produce an economic benefit of $20 billion in the corridor.

“That’s the sort of overall number that you would get from a project that basically is going to cost you somewhere between $3 billion and $5 billion.”

Property values along the line could appreciate by $1.4 billion, he added.

“People will want to build over your station, on your station, close to your station, anywhere near the station within a circle of about half a mile. So there’ll be huge development not just in Calgary and Edmonton, but also in Red Deer.

“Red Deer will get a significant benefit from this project because Red Deer will find itself an hour’s travel time from either Edmonton or Calgary, which will make it a very, very attractive place to live and to have a high quality of life.”

Growing traffic volumes on Hwy 2 necessitate that some action be taken, said Metcalf.

“Essentially, you’re growing so fast that if you do not build a high-speed train, you are going to have to put in Hwy 2 again, complete, in order to satisfy the market for travel in this corridor.”

The Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee now plans to conduct public meetings in Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton on the issue of high-speed rail. In Red Deer, this will take place on Feb. 25 at 6:30 p.m. at the Red Deer Lodge Hotel.

Participants wishing to present are asked to register by Feb. 20 by calling 780-427-1350. Written submissions will also be accepted until March 31, and can be sent to the Committee Clerk, 801 Legislature Annex, 9718 107th St., Edmonton, T5K 1E4, or by email to economicfuture.committee@assembly.ab.ca.

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