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A Short History of the High-Speed Rail studies between Calgary-Edmonton, Alberta.

Edmonton - Calgary High-Speed Rail

It is no secret that the Edmonton-Calgary corridor is ideally suited for high-speed rail. But 35 years after the first study was completed, nothing has happened.

High-Speed Rail Canada will give you a quick history lesson on the line and the grim reality that there is no passenger rail service between Alberta’s two largest cities. It will also look at possible ideas to bring passenger rail service back between these two communities and Red Deer.

Calgary-Edmonton high-speed trains ideas
From TranSyt High-Speed Monorails to Bombardier's JetTrain, Calgary-Edmonton Corridor Ideas

Regular Passenger Rail Service started in 1891

Regularly scheduled passenger trains served the area between Calgary and Edmonton on the Canadian Pacific line from 1891 to 1985. In 1969, the journey time was 3 and a half hours, with 3 trains per day carrying 80,000 passengers. The service was terminated in 1985.

In 1982, TranSyt proposed to build a high speed 240km/h monorail between the two cities. Unfortunately the province could not come to terms with the company about building the test track and the dream ended.

Alberta 1985 High-Speed Rail Study

In March, 1985, the Alberta government released a study - High Speed Rail Prospects in the Calgary-Edmonton Corridor.

The study “Clearly demonstrates that high-speed rail service in the Calgary-Edmonton corridor is technically feasible and economically-viable, and that it would contribute to a revival of the province's engineering and construction industries.

The relatively short - 300 km - Calgary-Edmonton corridor allows the business traveller to leave at 7:00 a.m. returning by 6:00 p.m. and put in 1 full-day's work .

High-speed trains travelling at 200-270 km per hour could provide 10-14 trains a day. Downtown to downtown in 1hr. 40 minutes. It would be grade separated. It would cost $844,000 to build.

No action was taken on the report.

A High Speed Rail Review Committee was created by Alberta Economic Development in December of 1985. Its terms of reference had as its objective the following: "To review, assess and report on the feasibility and viability of an innovative joint-venture between the private sector and government to provide, between Calgary and Edmonton, a high-speed rail service.

In 1986, their report stated, On the basis of currently available studies which it has reviewed and developed, the Committee recommended that the Government of Alberta does not proceed with the development of a High Speed Rail link between Calgary and Edmonton.

Bombardier Jet Train High-Speed Train Visits Alberta in 2003

In 2003, the Alberta government was studying the concept again of high-speed rail between Calgary and Edmonton. At the same time Bombardier Transportation had built their full scale JetTrain and was trying to sell it in Canada and USA. The JetTrain stopped in Calgary in 2003 for the public to view it..

The JetTrain would run on an existing track. It had a turbine engine capable of speeds of 240km per hour.

In October 2004, the Vanhorne Institute released a study about High-Speed Rail in the Edmonton-Calgary Corridor. 

The study concludes that high speed rail would bring significant benefits to the Calgary-Edmonton corridor and Alberta as a whole. Depending on the route/technology alternative selected, the project is estimated to generate between $3.7 billion and $6.1 billion in quantifiable benefits,

It would offer a travel time of two hours or less required by prospective riders. The two options presented were:

Upgrading the existing CPR line to permit mixed freight and high speed passenger rail service based on JetTrain technology, or

Constructing a largely new or Greenfield line dedicated to high speed rail service with shared access via the CPR corridor into both cities that uses either JetTrain technology or 300 km per hour electrified TGV type trains.

Another High-Speed Rail Study in 2008

In 2008, The Alberta government commissioned another study looking at the Economic benefits and market assessment for high-speed rail service between Calgary and Edmonton.

The conclusion of this study was:

The development of the Alberta High Speed Rail  system will provide an integrating force for the communities of the Calgary-Edmonton corridor.

It will provide opportunities to fundamentally change the character of business in the corridor while expanding the level of social, personal and tourist interaction in the corridor. In the corridor the project will create a new business environment that will encourage and attract new businesses.

Despite the Jettrain visit in 2003 and the positive conclusions from the 2004 and 2008 studies no action was taken on high-speed rail or any passenger rail service between Calgary and Edmonton

In 2010, A Study on the Impacts of High-Speed rail on Rural Alberta was completed by CPCS Transcom Limited. The study outlined several ways to mitigate these impacts.

In 2010  The Standing Committee on Alberta’s Economic Future Released a report on the- the Feasibility of Establishing a High-Speed Rail Transit System in Alberta. It recommended that Alberta not proceed with high-speed rail.

The government held public hearings on high-speed rail in Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer.

In 2010 Alberta Government Says NO to High-Speed Rai

Even before the meetings the government’s former transportation minister announced he was not committed to high-speed rail.

The $6 billion line would allow users to travel between Alberta’s two largest cities in 90 minutes, with a stop in Red Deer along the way.

A private company, Alberta High Speed Rail Inc with CEO Bill Cruickshank was pushing hard at the time to make high-speed rail a reality.

Three More High-Speed Rail Proposals for Calgary-Edmonton

TransPod the company started in 2015 and they state they are building an ultra-high speed hyperloop system. using maglev and other technologies to disrupt and redefine commercial transportation.

They secured $550 million in private funding. They even have an agreement to build a test track in France and Alberta.

The reality in 2023 is, there is no working transpod vehicle and no test tracks have been built in France or Alberta.

In 2021, Prairie Link High-Speed Rail Project was announced. It consisted of the consortium of EllisDon and AECOM. They have partnered together to build high-speed rail between Calgary and Edmonton. Both companies are significant players in the construction and infrastructure development sectors.

Since their original press release in 2021 Prairie Link has been silent on their future plans.

In 2022, A non high-speed passenger rail has been suggested. Alberta Regional Rail is proposing a commuter line between the two cities, stopping at communities along the Highway 2 corridor. The line would cost $2.2 billion and takes less than a year to put in the infrastructure.

It would cost a fraction of the cost of a high-speed rail line or expanding the highway, as planned, to three lanes in each direction.

In conclusion there are several projects to restore passenger rail service between Calgary and Edmonton. We hope that the government of Alberta realizes that passenger rail between Calgary and Edmonton can be a viable option for improving the quality of life for the people that live there.

Paul Langan, Founder, High Speed Rail Canada,