Alberta passenger rail ‘master plan’ would connect Calgary, Edmonton to airports, mountains

The Government of Alberta is taking a drastic step to change the way Albertans and tourists travel, with an announcement of a province-wide passenger rail plan. Jillian Code reports.

The Alberta government is moving forward with a master plan aimed to further connect the province through increased rail service.

Premier Danielle Smith was joined by Minister of Transportation and Economic Corridors, Devin Dreeshan, at Heritage Park in Calgary for the Monday afternoon announcement.

The six part plan to be developed includes commuter rail that would connect Calgary and Edmonton to their airports and surrounding communities, and a high speed regional rail line between the province’s two largest cities.

“A more densely populated province will need a mobility system that supports our growing population with a fast, safe, and reliable choice of transportation that also meets our goals of reducing emissions,” said Smith, adding that now is finally the time to move forward with expanding rail service.

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The plan also calls for regional rail lines that would connect Calgary and Edmonton to Alberta’s mountain parks, something Smith says will be a boon for Alberta’s tourism sector.

“We know that passenger rail lines through the mountains are very popular, but right now, those experiences end in Banff and Jasper without simple connections to our major cities,” Smith says.

The province says a crown corporation will be developed that would be responsible for infrastructure and daily operations of the system — including fare collection, maintenance, and future planning.

The vision includes integrating the provincial rail system with municipal LRT systems in Calgary and Edmonton. Transportation hubs in the major cities would link the municipal public transit, commuter rail, and regional rail systems.

Vision for Alberta’s ‘Passenger Rail Master Plan’

  • Calgary commuter rail system connecting airport, surrounding communities to downtown
  • Edmonton commuter rail system connecting airport, surrounding communities to downtown
  • Regional rail lines connecting Calgary, Edmonton to mountain parks
  • Regional rail line connecting Calgary and Edmonton, with transit hub in Red Deer
  • LRT systems in Calgary, Edmonton that integrate with provincial system
  • Transit hubs in Calgary, Edmonton that connect LRT, commuter, and regional lines

Passenger rail in the province is currently limited to tourism service from VIA Rail and Rocky Mountaineer, and the LRT in Calgary and Edmonton.

“Here in Alberta, we’ve been behind for decades,” Smith says. “Edmonton and Calgary have been building out and growing their LRT systems, but neither city has a line to connect residents and tourists to their airports.”

The UCP government is seeking consultant services to develop the plan. Smith says the province would include public input before the ‘master plan’ is finalized and it will include a cost-benefit analysis.

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

Alberta’s passenger rail timeline

The province’s latest budget includes $9 million towards the development of the plan. Some additional funding includes $43 million to support the CTrain Blue Line expansion toward the Calgary International Airport.

The government says more investment will be put towards the project in 2025 and 2026.

The Passenger Rail Master Plan is expected to be completed by the summer of 2025, according to the province. It is set to include “a 15-year delivery plan” that would aim to see the projects completed by 2040.

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