MOUNTAIN VIEW COUNTY - The county has been asked to join other municipalities in the district in providing a letter of support for the Alberta Regional Rail proposal.
Officials with the project updated councillors on the proposal during the recent council meeting, held in person and on Zoom.
The proposal calls for a passenger rail system to be constructed along existing CPR right-of-way between Edmonton and Calgary, with stations in various communities along the line, including Olds, Didsbury, Bowden, Innisfail and Carstairs. The system could also be expanded to other parts of the province.
Thomas Fryer, a civil and structural engineer, is spearheading the proposed project, speaking with area municipalities and others in recent months. He spoke with Mountain View County council for about 30 minutes late last month.
The rail system would have wide ranging economic benefits to the province and the communities involved, he said.
“A regional passenger network in the Calgary-Edmonton corridor would connect all the towns and cities and provide an integrated and accessible transportation network,” said Fryer. “It would provide a frequent, fast, reliable, efficient, sustainable and safe mode of transportation.”
A regional rail system would encourage economic development, support tourism, and promote investment, he said.
The project will include a future feasibility study, he said.
Asked by councillor Alan Miller what speeds trains would travel on the system, Fryer said, “Initial speeds would be as per Canadian CFR regulations, which vary between about 130 kilometres per hour. As enhancements are made, as tracks are twinned, crossing are installed, bridges are constructed, road crossings are renewed, that speed can be increased. So it could get up to 160 kilometres per hour. It all takes time and it all takes money. Safety is the key to everything.”
Councillor Peggy Johnson asked what impact a new regional rail system would have on the existing rail traffic availability.
“I was under the impression that existing rail time is already at a premium,” she said. “How much time is available for passenger trains to use on the rails?”
Fryer said twinning the lines at stations would markedly increase capacity.
“As you put in the double tracks and increase the passing points, you can increase the number of trains,” he said.
Reeve Angela Aalbers asked who is going to fund the feasibility study.
Fryer replied, “That is the item we are working on at the moment. We’ve already obtained 15 letters for support from communities within the corridor so far, and we’ve spoken with the Central Alberta Economic Partnership and given them a similar presentation. We’ve also spoken to and have commitments from Transport Action Canada. They have committed to allocating funds for a feasibility study.”
Aalbers asked Fryer what the estimated cost of the entire project would be.
In response, he said, “I have a rough idea of costs. I’m in the process of doing an economic analysis. It’s about $25 million per station. Ultimately you are looking at about $2.5 billion for the entire build-out, and that includes 25 bridges, 23 stations, fully twinned lines, and rolling stock.”
Asked by councillor Jennifer Lutz if each municipality would negotiate details of stations in each community, he said yes.
Fryer asked council for a letter of support for the project.
Councillors received Fryer’s presentation as information. Reeve Aalbers said council will consider the request for a letter of support at an upcoming council meeting.