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‘We are serious’: Alberta government’s master plan to expand rail passenger service

CALGARY — The Alberta government has announced a master plan aimed at increasing passenger rail service in the province.

But at this point it could be decades if and when the finished product comes to fruition.

Expanding rail service has been discussed extensively for the past 15 years in Alberta but Premier Danielle Smith says the time to move forward is now with record population growth and more crowded highways.

“Those of us who commute regularly already see and experience our province’s busy roads and highways,” Smith, standing in front of a steam engine at Calgary’s Heritage Park, told reporters Monday.

“Expanding our roads, freeways and highways to be six or eight or 10 lanes all the way across is not always feasible, nor is it always wise.”

The plan will look forward decades and identify concrete actions that can be taken now as well as in the future to build the optimal passenger rail system for the province.

The plan will assess the feasibility of passenger rail in Alberta, including regional, commuter and high-speed services.

“Rail systems networks are a reliable fact of life in Eastern Canada and the United States and all across Europe,” she said.

“And yet here in Alberta we’ve been behind for decades.”

Transportation Minister Devin Dreeshen said the plan comprises six phases, the first of which would connect rail from both Edmonton and Calgary’s downtowns to their airports and surrounding communities.

A high-speed rail service connecting Edmonton and Calgary is also a priority.

“We are serious. I think it would be very easy just to throw money at a proponent who walks by and say ‘OK, lets start building trains in Alberta,'” Dreeshen said.

“We’re actually taking the time to develop what a provincewide network could be, and do that feasibility study and cost analysis to really understand it as opposed to jumping in with a new government announcement.”

Smith said setting up a Crown corporation, similar to Metrolinx in Ontario, seems the best fit. It would develop the infrastructure, oversee daily operations and plan for future system expansion.

The plan will include a cost-benefit analysis and determine what’s required from government including governance and a 15-year delivery plan.

“Nothing about this plan is going to be unilateral,” said Smith.

“It will take shape only after consultations with municipalities, with industry, with Indigenous communities and all Albertans interested in the future of passenger rail.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2024.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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