City could ride high-speed rail to ‘Super Zone’

The Red Deer region stands to benefit from millions of dollars in new jobs and development when high speed rail runs between Calgary and Edmonton, says a report released on Monday.

The Red Deer region stands to benefit from millions of dollars in new jobs and development when high speed rail runs between Calgary and Edmonton, says a report released on Monday.

The report commissioned by the provincial government says the Red Deer “Super Zone” would receive 20 to 25 per cent of the total economic benefits, while the Calgary Super Zone would pick up 40 to 45 per cent and Edmonton Super Zone 30 to 35 per cent. The city of Red Deer and its surrounding market area were identified as a super zone.

In their 321-page report, TEMS, Inc. and Oliver Wyman identify the estimated number of jobs, household income generated and the development potential for each of those areas depending on the type of train that is used.

When the train runs 240 km/h, the Red Deer area will attract about 1,070 to 1,475 jobs, $57 million to $78 million in household income and $199 million to $273 million in development. There would be fewer jobs, income growth and development if the train ran slower at 200 km/h, but a lot more if the train ran at 320 km/h and 480 km/h. At the most, it would generate up to 2,185 jobs, $116 million in income and $397 million in development potential.

The project is expected to attract “new economy” jobs, including those in the high-tech industry, while fostering the growth of new small businesses with improved access to smaller centres.

Five station stops were considered in the study — the airports in Calgary and Edmonton, downtown Calgary and Edmonton, and an unidentified stop at Red Deer.

“The impact of this will be huge,” said Mayor Morris Flewwelling. “It means that people will be able to use this as a commuting train.”

Flewwelling said the high-speed train service could make Red Deer a bedroom community to Calgary or Edmonton, where people could actually live in Red Deer and work in either big city or vice-versa.

His preferred choice for the station would be at Riverlands west of Taylor Drive, where the city hopes to develop a mixed-used district of culture, entertainment and community gathering places. Train users would then be in the downtown core where they would have easy access to buses, he added.

The mayor also likes the intersection of 32nd Street and Hwy 2, or west of Red Deer where a right-of-way for the train was first identified.

The study reports the slowest train at 200 km/h could use the existing Canadian Pacific Railway right-of-way, but the other higher speed options would need a new right-of-way.

The fastest train would make the trip between the two major cities in about an hour.

Red Deer Chamber of Commerce president Mike Axworthy said he hopes the province will act soon on putting aside a corridor for the train and possibly utilities, too. A utilities corridor could include power and fibre optics, he said.

“The time is now . . . to not wait on that, even if the train and the technology are not available,” Axworthy said.

Glenn Simon, owner of Glenn’s Restaurant in Gasoline Alley where tens of thousands of drivers stop on Hwy 2 each day, doesn’t believe high-speed rail will drop business.

He thinks the train would be “wonderful” because it would reduce high-traffic volumes on Hwy 2.

“Twenty-five per cent of drivers are zooming between Calgary and Edmonton,” Simon said, referring to a study from 1995. “If we can get 25 per cent of people off the road, then it makes for better driving conditions for tourists. It’s easier for them to get in and off the highway.”

The report doesn’t make any recommendations concerning future government involvement.

Alberta Transportation spokeswoman Tammy Forbes said the possibility is for the government to acquire for the rights of the land while the private sector pays for construction and operation costs.

Transportation Minister Luke Ouellette presented the report to a joint provincial-federal Conservative caucus Monday in Calgary.

He told reporters there that the next step would be a study on where exactly a line could go and that the government would pay for that study as well as the cost to acquire the right of ways for the land.

It could cost anywhere from $3 billion to $20 billion to construct, but most of that cost probably wouldn’t come from government coffers, Ouellette said.

ltester@bprda.wpengine.com, with files from Canadian Press

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