If Alberta is serious about a high-speed rail line the government should pick a route and acquire the land now, said a number of those who addressed an all-party MLA committee on Tuesday.
Former Red Deer mayor Morris Flewwelling said if the province doesn’t start buying up land now for a high-speed corridor property prices will keep rising and become a “major stumbling block” for the project.
The success of a high-speed rail link between Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary also relies on travellers being able to access efficient city transportation systems at their destinations, said Flewwelling. Bus or LRT fares could even be built into high-speed rail ticket prices.
“I think it’s really critical (that) it’s seamless, you just keep moving,” he told the Legislative Standing Committee on Alberta’s Economic Future at a public session in Red Deer on Tuesday night that drew about 40 people.
“It doesn’t make any sense if you spend 40 minutes getting to Edmonton and then wait an hour to get to the university.”
Lacombe-area farmer Tony Jeglum joked that the time to buy the high-speed rail corridor land was probably in 1905.
Even if the rail system remains on the back burner, the least that should be done soon is to secure the corridor, he suggested.
“It’s time to make that first step forward.”
Before high-speed rail is developed it might make sense to restore traditional rail passenger service, similar to the Dayliner that used to run between the province’s two major cities, he said.
Gavin Bates, a retired mechanical engineer from Innisfail, said the province will likely have its work cut out for it trying to find a corridor, based on the difficulties in routing a proposed north-south transmission line.
It will be “almost impossible” to find a route that is acceptable to rural landowners, he predicted.
Ralph Cervi, a former Red Deer Mountie, said the government missed a perfect opportunity to create an infrastructure corridor when it was looking for the power line route.
When a high-speed route is mapped out, it should be wide enough to provide for any future infrastructure needs, whether roads, pipelines, or transmission lines so repeated land expropriation is not required.
Calgary-East MLA and committee chair Moe Amery said many of the comments received in Red Deer about the need to get going on land acquisition echoed similar views heard at the committee’s meeting in Calgary on Monday night.
Amery said many have expressed their concern about the cost of the line.
“It’s prudent thinking to do the grass roots work right now,” he said.
The cost of high-speed rail varies widely depending on the source. A 2009 government study pegged the bill at between $3 billion and $20 billion depending on the technology and type of train chosen.
Some of the 15 people who made presentations to the committee were skeptical of the benefits of high-speed rail.
Norman Wiebe, of Red Deer, said he is concerned that existing high-speed rail systems around the world are heavily subsidized by governments. Improving Hwy 2 would make more financial sense and provide immediate results.
Wiebe also wondered if high-speed rail could deliver on its promise of shaving significant time off journeys to Edmonton or Calgary, when checking in and passing through security are factored in.