High-speed rail studied

The province is taking another look at high-speed rail.

The province is taking another look at high-speed rail.

The government’s Standing Committee on Alberta’s Economic Future discussed the issue last week. It now plans to study the matter and report to the legislative assembly by the end of May, said committee chair Moe Amery.

“We want to meet with a panel of experts in the next month or so, and then we’ll go from there.”

Those experts would provide information on everything from acquiring land to constructing the line to financing the project, said Amery. Public hearings are also a possibility, he added, with Red Deer a likely site for such a gathering.

The province commissioned a high-speed rail market demand study in 2006, the results of which were released in 2009. These indicated that many Hwy 2 travellers would use high-speed rail if the option existed.

The subsequent economic downturn dampened interest in the proposal, noted Amery. But he thinks it’s time to revisit the issue.

“As a matter of fact, this appeared at our PC annual convention,” he said, referring to his party’s gathering in Red Deer last month. “Many people brought it up.”

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer is pleased to hear that high-speed rail is back on the table.

“I think it’s extremely positive for Red Deer and Alberta — particularly if there’s a stop in Red Deer.

“I think the economic potential would be unbelievable, and it would probably shift how our province lives and works.”

Amery, who is the MLA for Calgary-East, regularly drives between his home city and Edmonton. He said people often ask him about the potential for high-speed rail along the Hwy 2 corridor.

“The driving force behind bringing it right now is it’s on everybody’s mind.”

That’s because Alberta has resumed its rapid growth, with a corresponding strain on Hwy 2. Amery noted that the number of people travelling between Calgary and Edmonton in 2006 was calculated at 50 million — a figure that was expected to triple by 2051.

If the decision is made to build a high-speed rail line, it would probably take 10 to 15 years to complete the work, said Amery.

“There are tons of things that need to be done,” he said, listing right-of-way acquisitions and land purchases among these.

Veer said it’s important such property requirements be dealt with as soon as possible, so that affected municipalities can plan accordingly.

The cost of developing a high-speed rail line is an impediment, acknowledged Amery. He said his committee will consider a range of options in this regard.

“We’re going to explore private financing — private businesses, the private sector, the P3, anything. Everything is on the table.”

Amery didn’t want to speculate on what his committee might recommend, but said a Calgary-Red Deer-Edmonton line would seem the logical choice. He thinks Red Deer would be a natural stopping point on such a line.

Veer said past Red Deer councils have advocated for high-speed rail with a Red Deer connection. She thinks the current council will do the same.

The 2006 high-speed rail market demand study, conducted by TEMS Inc. Consulting, looked at four train options. These ranged in speed from 200 km/h to 500 km/h.

Cost estimates for the system ran from $3 billion to $20 billion.

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com