Although a high-speed train between Calgary and Edmonton is at least 15 years away from carrying its first passengers, there is private interest in the project, Transportation Minister Luke Ouellette said Wednesday.
A newly-released report on the potential demand for high-speed rail said people would be willing to pay $56 to $120 one way, depending on the speed of the train. No suggestion was made as to whether the government should fund the project, which has an estimated construction bill of $3 billion to $20 billion.
Ouellette, MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, anticipates the provincial government would primarily pay for purchasing the land where the 300-km long rail line would run.
He said there must be interest from industry before the project could get off the ground — and there is. “There’s a lot of investment interest,” he said. “I’ve had some companies that are very interested in looking at it.”
Ouellette presented the report to a joint provincial-federal Conservative caucus on Monday. He said he is now seeking support for a government-funded corridor study to be done on where the alignment should go and how much land is required.
It will go forward soon to an agenda and priorities committee. Even if it does receive caucus approval, the study would still have to receive approval from the Treasury Board.
Even with government approvals, Ouellette is predicting a long road ahead before people would be climbing aboard. He’s expecting controversy on where the line would be constructed.
“Everyone says they want something built, but as long as it’s not in their backyard,” he said.
Ouellette figures it will take about two years to figure out the alignment and then another two to four years to acquire the land. And then another 10 years to build.
“Even if you start now, you are close to 15 years before any riders,” Ouellette said.
The market assessment report suggested that the faster the train, the higher ridership.
“It would have to go 300 to 350 km/h to get enough ridership,” said Ouellette.
If it travels at these high speeds, Ouellette said there can be no at-level crossings, which means it must go below or above the ground. There’s a huge cost with that, he added.
Four types of trains were evaluated in the consultants’ report, from the slower 200-km/h diesel electric train, which would take two hours to travel from Calgary to Edmonton, to the 480-km/h magnetic levitation train, which would deliver passengers to their destination in an hour.
Red Deer South MLA Cal Dallas said he’s always favoured a review of high-speed rail and its possible benefits for Red Deer.
“At some point, it will be a viable option but not today,” he said.