Airdrie City council declined supporting a regional commuter railway system connecting cities and towns within the Edmonton-Calgary corridor at their last meeting of 2021, citing a lack of information and financial backing.
During the Dec. 20 council meeting, Thomas Fryer from Alberta Regional Rail Inc. said during a presentation that the advocacy group hopes to obtain a letter of support from the City so they might progress with their efforts to obtain private financing and bring the project to the attention of provincial and federal governments.
He added the proposal is not for a high-speed rail service, but a regional rail system connecting cities to rural communities by twinning the existing CP railway, providing commuter stops for passenger trains along the corridor.
“The backbone of every high-speed rail service is a regional rail service,” Fryer said. “The idea is to connect the cities to the rural communities – that's my goal.
“I think that’s deficient in Alberta. Rural communities are effectively abandoned by the big cities. You need to care for, accommodate, and look after rural communities.”
He added the project aims to twin the existing CP Rail line in an effort to increase capacity with the use of modern technology.
While some councillors were initially excited about the idea, all seven members ultimately voiced hesitations about the project, adding it does not have enough backing from private and provincial authorities for the municipality to provide a stamp of approval.
“I’m struggling with any kind of letter of support without knowing what the dollar amount that the City of Airdrie will be requested to come up with,” said Coun. Ron Chapman during the meeting. “If you’re gonna have a stop in Airdrie, the land has to come from somewhere.”
Fryer responded that the funding would come in part from public and private partnerships, along with any federal and provincial grants that are available at the time.
“At this point in time, we do not envisage needing to dip into the pockets of the municipalities,” Fryer said. “Our aim is not to [do that], because this is the pan-provincial rail system.
“We’ll start in the Calgary-Edmonton corridor. If we’re successful – and I truly believe we will be – we can then expand to [other areas].”
Coun. Al Jones said as the rail infrastructure is owned by CP Rail, without their backing or approval, it doesn’t matter what government authorities say at this point. He urged the group to obtain the national railway authority's approval before moving ahead with further government advocacy efforts.
“I do find this concept exciting. It has been talked about as far back as the '90s under the Klein government,” Jones said. “I’m open to a letter of support, but I would add the caveat that the City of Airdrie would not be committing any dollars [at this time].”
Similarly, Coun. Tina Petrow said not having any indication from CP Rail that they are in favour of the project would make her “nervous” to write a letter of support.
Coun. Candace Kolson chimed in that impact assessments need to be made, as the implementation of a regional rail system would have a “big effect” on transportation within and outside the community. And Coun. Heather Spearman said while she is a “huge proponent” of alternative transportation, there need to be additional consultations before the City provides any support.
Mayor Peter Brown said the proposal sounds a bit like a dream without much understanding of the logistics behind it, such as the location, impact, or costs associated with a project of this scale. He added the CP Rail line is probably “maxed out already.”
Brown suggested Fryer and his team consult with both CP Rail and the Alberta ministries of transportation and infrastructure before they proceed at a municipal level.
“I wouldn’t be willing to write a letter of support until I have more information,” Brown said. “I encourage you to open that dialogue with CP Rail.”
Brown added he is looking forward to working with Fryer and his team to provide a long-term rail strategy for the region once further consultations have been made.
In a unanimous vote, councillors accepted the presentation for information only and opted not to provide a letter of support at this time.
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