The province is giving some serious consideration to potentially building a commuter rail “Metrolinx-like” system to connect Okotoks, Calgary, and Airdrie.
In a mandate letter sent to Minister of Transportation and Economic Corridors Devin Dreeshen last week, Premier Danielle Smith directed that he examine “the feasibility of a province-led model for commuter rail service using heavy rail on the Canadian Pacific rail line from Airdrie to Okotoks.”
The premier went on to suggest Dreeshen also look into the feasibility of creating a similar commuter rail system linking Edmonton International Airport to downtown Edmonton, with “a view to developing a commuter rail system that can expand as Alberta grows.”
Part of the feasibility study should include the use of hydrogen-powered trains, directed Smith.
It's an idea that Airdrie Mayor Peter Brown summed up with unbridled enthusiasm.
“It’s awesome,” said Brown when he was asked what he thought about the premier’s recent mandate letter to Minister Dreeshen. “There has been tons of talk about this for probably decades, and to hear the premier saying this is a focus of hers makes total sense. It takes a lot of cars off the road, takes the pressures off our highways and streets, and I think it is really a good thing.”
Brown felt such a transportation system would be heavily utilized by local residents and businesses should it get past the conversation stage into planning, approval, and the province’s budget, particularly in the winter time.
“It’s just a comfortable way to travel, certainly during the winter months,” Brown said. “It takes a lot of pressure off the safety of the roads. You can have some terrible ice and snow, and anything we can do to eliminate that obstacle for people is a good thing.”
Brown said Airdrie is already prepared to welcome such a commuter rail link to Calgary. The City's public transit system already has daily buses travelling from Airdrie to downtown Calgary and back every weekday.
“If you go down to the south end of the city where our transport hub is, there is an opportunity to build something on the railway there now,” he explained. “So we have planned for it, but we just hope this time there is going to be some certainty and some real specific commitment from the government that this is the direction they want to go.”
Outside of safety considerations, Brown said a commuter rail link makes a lot of sense. According to Brown, it would help save repair costs on local highways, would save municipalities from having to build “astronomical” highway infrastructure projects like the new 40th Avenue overpass in the future, and it would make life more affordable for many local residents, who wouldn’t have to purchase a second family car just to get to and from work each day.
Brown acknowledged Premier Smith’s mandate letter to Dreeshen was just the start of a lengthy conversation, and the province is still quite a long way from bringing in financing to support such an inter-municipal rail service.
“It is just a first step, but it is still a good step,” he stated.
Minister Dreeshen also confirmed in an email to the Airdrie City View that this mandate letter from the premier is only the beginning of the process, but also touted the potential for a future commuter rail connection between Airdrie, Calgary and Okotoks as one more example of his government’s commitment to creating first-class transportation networks.
In reference to this commitment, Dreeshen cited the example of the recent $160 million commitment to creating a new overpass in Balzac to aid the growth of that community’s transportation and logistics hub, and his government’s commitment to fund a new interchange at Highway 1A and Highway 22 in Cochrane to “help reduce traffic congestion and improve travel times.”
In addition to the potential link between Airdrie, Calgary, and Okotoks, the province is also committing $3 million to study the feasibility of building a hydrogen-powered passenger rail line from Calgary International Airport to Banff, with proposed stops in between located in Calgary, Cochrane, Morley, and Canmore.
"I look forward to exploring this mandate item set by Premier Smith," stated Dreeshen. "We will be working closely with our federal, municipal, Indigenous, and industry partners to determine its feasibility. I am excited to work on this potential project that could better connect Albertans."