Monday, July 6, 2009

Alberta High Speed Rail

Note: This post was written in February 2006, just after the Alberta government gave us each $400.

I've got $400 that says that Alberta is a prosperous province.

The development of High Speed Rail in the Highway 2 corridor is overdue, but the economic, environmental, and technological stars are aligning in a way that could see a progressive transportation solution for the region becoming a reality. The Alberta economy is hot, but there is currently no alternative to burning fossil fuels to get from Calgary to Edmonton in a timely manner. High Speed Rail technology is fast, proven, efficient, and economical.

It is a proper function of government to undertake large infrastructure projects that are in the best interests of the people it serves. The time is right for the province to invest in transportation infrastructure of the future, rather than waiting for some sort of crisis to force their hand.

Proposals for a High Speed Rail link between Calgary and Edmonton are resurfacing on the Provincial agenda. It was shown in the Van Horne Institute's 2004 study that sufficient demand already exists for rail service offering two hour or less travel time between Calgary and Edmonton. The project is moving towards a market demand study a feasibility study, and hopefully construction.

However the study misses out on some opportunities that relate to smaller cities along the route. It makes no allowances for stops at some of the other communities along the route. For example, Airdrie and Leduc both have significant commuter traffic to their respective big city counterparts. The train could take a significant chunk of that commuter traffic. If you wanted to make a trip from Wetaskiwin to Olds, it would be nice to be able to hop onto a train and have it take you there. It would also be nice to be able to catch a fast train from anywhere along the Highway 2 corridor to either airport, which would change dramatically the notion of park and fly. The more communities that are included in the scheme, the more flexibility the service would provide. If it's a one trick pony that just does Calgary-Edmonton, lots of people get left out.

It is, however, important to maintain the quick travel times from Calgary to Edmonton, but Japanese and European rail systems already have this scenario solved through the use of different classes of trains. Limited express trains charge more and have very few stops, while local trains hit all the stops at the expense taking a little longer to arrive at the destination. Given a project on this scale, with the tracks going by and the ability to revolutionize these communities with the inclusion of a train stop, a golden opportunity would be wasted if these communities were left out. Including links to the smaller communities along the corridor would increase the accessibility and the usefulness of such a line for all Albertans.

In the interest of staging the construction, rail lines from Calgary to the Calgary Airport, and Edmonton to the Edmonton Airport would instantly be useful, and would help present Edmonton and Calgary as world class cities. Construction could then continue while segments of the track are already in operation.

The province should get it built, soon, and they should make sure to include the smaller communities on the way, for the benefit of all Albertans. They should do it even if it means they need my $400 back.

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