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CANADIAN RAIL-FERRY: The next generation transportation solution for CALGARY-EDMONTON Corridor

Guest Blogger - Laksiri Loku-Balasooriyage - CANADIAN RAIL-FERRY: The next generation transportation solution for CALGARY-EDMONTON corridor and other congested long distance corridors!


 This paper briefly discusses RAIL-FERRY as an economically sustainable alternative to improve the traffic situation between Calgary and Edmonton. CANADIAN RAIL-FERRY (CRF) brings the ferry concept to land as a mode of transporting vehicles and people.

 A tri-level bullet-train will act as the ferry. The CRF will have 3 levels, lower 2 for commuters in vehicles and the top level for ticketed passengers. Commuters in vehicles can either stay in their vehicle or move to the upper deck to enjoy a coffee or some leisure time. In the context of Calgary – Edmonton corridor, Red Deer may be considered as a stop and may help increasing the volumes.

Amtrak Auto Train


CRF is a significant advancement beyond EURO-TUNNEL-TRAIN and US AUTO-TRAIN. CRF is suggested to challenge all 3 modes of travel (i.e. Auto, Air and Bus) currently available to nearly 9.8 million (2006, TEMS) public that travels between Edmonton and Calgary yearly. RAIL-FERRY could compete or complement for current focus on QE2 lane expansion project and HSR (High Speed Rail). The property owned by CN rail or CP rail can host the new CRF double track. In contrast to the recent study by Van Horne institute (2015), current CP and CN traffic volumes and priority on freight trains, imposes a great threat to upgrading current tracks for a high speed rail solution.

The RAIL-FERRY is expected to release the pressure on QE2 between Calgary and Edmonton tremendously. It removes a significant traffic volume and also supports an environment friendly transportation solution at a significantly low cost to the commuter (i.e. $50/trip per vehicle from Calgary to Edmonton). Study in 2005 suggests an average annual daily traffic of 20,000 vehicles across QE2 at its lowest level (Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation). TEMS (2008) estimated that roughly 6,900 one-way vehicle trips between the metropolitan areas of Calgary and Edmonton occur each day, and 5,249 one-way vehicle trips between Red Deer and the metropolitan areas of Calgary and Edmonton. At the rate of 200 vehicles transported with people in one run, the RAIL-FERRY can transport between 5,000-6,000 vehicles daily between Calgary and Edmonton.

Additionally, CRF can transport passengers and parcels suggesting a total annual income of C$0.6 billion. Our calculations suggest approx. C$600,687,000 annual revenue from ticketed passengers, commuters with vehicles, parcel services and other services. Also the project is suggested to remove 107,830 Tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. The breakeven period has been suggested at 15 years from the beginning of construction with above 4% IRR at 15 years.


In addition to financial benefits, CRF directly reduced the CO2 emissions. Also it enhances the job opportunities in Alberta during the period of construction and operation. While providing a modern railway solution to Alberta, it reduces the traffic volume on QE2 leading to lesser accidents. Alstom/Bombardier TGV technology can be used to run the CRF trains at 320km/h speed reducing the commuter time and increasing the commuter productivity tremendously. As a pilot project, this can be a leader in changing the direction of future transportation models around the world.


In furtherance to the concept, current assumptions and financial calculations should be re-visited in order to re-confirm the schedules. Additionally, the current design suggested for the CFR should be certified by qualified rail road engineers. An environment impact assessment will also be needed. The provincial government may need to consider funding in partnership with three major cities benefited from the project i.e. Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer.

PROPOSED BY: Laksiri Loku-Balasooriyage (, Lethbridge, AB; August 16, 2016 (Rev. 30Jan2017)


  1. A couple of questions;

    1 How do you propose to load and unload the cars? Would they drive in one end and out of the other?
    2 Would there be doors between the cars at the auto levels that would be opened and closed or would you have a very wide vestibule that cars would be able to drive through?
    3 How would the people in the cars keep warm in the winter and cool in the summer? Would the auto levels be heated and cooled?
    4 What about safety requirements that prohibit the transportation of highly flammable fuels such as gasoline in the same vehicle with passengers.
    5 Would these trains be locomotive hauled or self propelled? Locomotives would need to be uncoupled to load and unload cars then re-coupled. Self propelled cars probably electric, would need to have an empty car at the lead end if there were no locomotive to meet crash energy management system requirements for trains travelling at high speeds. That is one reason why most of the European and other High Speed Trains are locomotive hauled, crash protection.
    6 Have you calculated the labour costs involved in running your system and the time required to load and unload the trains? If your train carried 200 autos in 2 levels it could carry 10 autos per car so would need 10 rail cars.

    You idea fails on several basic considerations, loading time, labour costs and safety.

  2. Thanks for your inquiry. The Euro-Tunnel Train describes a similar model to Canadian Rail Ferry considering the first auto-level.
    The first level of vehicles will be side loaded (same as Euro-Tunnel Train). The second level will be line loaded using side ramps mounted to the last/first rail car.
    There will be a drive-thru vestibule between cars on auto levels (similar to Euro-Tunnel Train). All 3 levels will be air conditioned/heated (same as in Euro-Tunnel Train).
    Euro tunnel already transports vehicles with passengers in a high speed train. Improved safety features are suggested for the Canadian Rail Ferry. Electric powered high speed locomotives at both ends are suggested to power the rail ferry.
    The Canadian Rail Ferry will have 13 rail cars powered by 2 high speed locomotives. Each rail car will carry 16 vehicles at 8 in each level. Labor costs are included in costing.

  3. I still would like to see your cost/revenue analysis and the rational for your projected loading. The distance for the Euro-Tunnel is just over 50 km whereas the Calgary Edmonton distance is about 280 km. The Chunnel save the need to get onto a water ferry and thus save considerable time for motorists. I cannot see the time or money saving for motorists in Alberta being great enough to result in high loading. Train service would need to be every 2 hours all day to carry the 5000 cars per day assuming you are talking about one way trips.

    If half of your revenue were from autos, say $300,000,000 you would need to charge about $160 per car per trip. I cannot see anyone paying this money when it would cost less to drive an be more convenient.

    Assuming that the train could average 160 km/h it would take 1.75 hrs to do the trip plus the loading and unloading time. If you add a stop in Red Deer, then your travel time would probably go up to 2.25 hours making it less competitive.

    You say that there are 6900 one way trips per day between Edmonton and Calgary. Do you really believe that you can get 5000 to 6000 of them to take your train?

    If you only charge $50 per trip then you would make, with everyone riding the trains, $126,000,000. If you add in ALL of the 5249 Red Deer trips you would get an additional $99,000,000 and this is assuming almost 90% capture of road trips and this is not going to happen.

    This would give $225,000,000 of revenue. Where would the other $375,000,000 come from? There must be an awful lot of passengers and parcel service between those cities.

    I still say your proposal does not stand up to any scrutiny. Show me the analysis and the costings or your proposal looks like another foamer fantasy.

  4. Thanks for your discussion. Following is the breakdown of revenues by revenue stream.

    The trips can be skewed around rush times between 5 – 8 am and 4-7pm (every 30 mins) and every 2 hrs in between. The schedule can change for weekends and holidays to be more spacious throughout the day.

    In addition to 6900 trips between Calgary and Edmonton based on average annual daily traffic (TEMS, 2008), TEMS also estimates 5249 trips between Red Deer and Edmonton/Calgary metropolitan. 5600 used below is about 58% comparing with above. However, a 3-4 month study based on cameras at 4 strategic points (i.e Edmonton, Red Deer North, Red Deer South and Calgary) can help getting a much accurate number which could be a pre-requisite.

    Revenue Streams by Category (CAD Per year):
    Cars and light trucks - 122,640,000
    (Volume of people travelling between Edm-Cal by auto projected for 2016 = 69,063,000 (TEMS 2008); Per day=189,213; Per day auto trips=47,303 (at 4 in one auto)
    Passenger - 321,930,000
    Forecasted ridership in 2016@200mph=3,581,000 (TEMS 2008); Per day=9810)
    Parcels - 143,080,000
    Puro, DHL, Canada Post, Fedex (500 per vendor/trip)
    Commercial Space at Terminals and Train - 2,400,000
    No supporting resources
    Digital displays on Rail Ferry - 1,456,000
    No supporting resources (1456 ads per month@C$1000)
    Total revenue per year (CAD) - 591,506,000

    The train is expected to run at 200mph using Alstom TGV technology. At this speed, and after discounting for speed reduction and stop times (15-20 mins) in Red Deer, the 300km distance can be covered in approx. 90 – 105 mins.

    The above only shows the FINANCIAL benefits of this project. As you know, the economic impact of this solution has far widely spreading benefits in the areas of traffic safety, environment, urbanisation, improved productivity, employment generation and even changes in the way we think and behave. The TEMS 2008, discusses further about the economic benefits of HSR on Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer metros. In comparison, the economic benefits of Canadian Rail Ferry (CRF) would be much larger.

    Based on IRR and pay back for a project of this magnitude, your scepticism is understandable. You may have heard the saying by Albert Einstein “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it”. This posting was to invite the experts to take a closer look and see the financial and economic viability of this concept. And then the next hurdle is the engineering challenge in designing the safe bullet and the rail it runs on. If The Wright Brothers could get tons of metal lifted to air with people, the challenges will serve the motivation for our Canadian engineers. In an era when things happen that are even beyond our imagination, why not make at least some of those things to help the economy and the quality of life….

    Mr Wightman, I really appreciate your constructive criticism and I I invite you to write to me directly. Perhaps I can organise a web conference for you so we can discuss finer details or this concept. I am sure you will bring a lot of ideas and discussions that will realy be helpful in the process. I have the blueprints for the design, locations and etc. Please write to me. Thank you! - Laksiri


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