Last week, yet another North American governmental body announced that it would begin fighting for funds to build a high-speed rail line. This time, Alberta stepped up to the plate, arguing that a fast train link between Calgary and Edmonton, with a stop along the way in Red Deer, would be a appropriate corridor for investment. This is the second serious Canadian effort for high-speed rail, behind the more prominent Windsor-Québec City effort, which would connect Toronto and Montréal, the country’s two largest metropolitan areas.
Calgary and Edmonton are 180 miles apart, putting them about three hours of one another by car. As a result, more than ninety percent of the travel between the cities is done by road, with only a small portion of people choosing to fly between them. Via Rail Canada serves Edmonton along its nationwide east-west route, but it offers no north-south connection to Calgary.
The study, completed by a consulting firm for the provincial government, compared four types of rail investment — 125 mph diesel service (2 hour trip), 150 mph “jet train” operations, 200 mph electric travel, and 300 mph maglev service (1 hour trip). Unexpectedly, the report showed that economic benefits would improve as train speeds increased, and that ridership would similarly go up, reaching between 2 and 10 million annual riders by 2050, depending on the speed of the trains. The study found that 200 mph trains would be the most effective system for implementation; the project would cost around C$10 billion to construct. Other options would cost between C$3 and C$20 to complete.
Calgary and Edmonton are close enough to one another that high-speed rail service between the cities would be competing more with car drivers than airplane riders; this could make attracting market share more difficult than along longer distance routes of between 300 and 600 miles, which are a stretch for most drivers. But the question the government should have in considering whether to invest in this line is whether it expects people to choose rail over driving, and whether ticket prices will be low enough to make that option feasible. If estimates show that rail — with its lower trip times and stress-free commutes — will attract many of those people out of their cars, than this corridor would be worth constructing.
Image above: Alberta high-speed rail plan, from Government of Alberta
* Note: this piece was auto-posted; the transport politic will be back in normal operation on Thursday the 23rd.