A C$1-billion-plus proposal to re-establish 130 kilometres of passenger rail service between Calgary and Banff is earning serious attention from both the provincial and federal levels. But local First Nations, those anxious to protect the fragile ecology of the Bow Valley, and even the Canadian Pacific Railway itself are yet to be convinced.
With more than four million visitors descending on Banff National Park every year and vehicle traffic to key attractions increasing 30 to 70% since 2010, a “better and greener” solution to road congestion is urgently needed, writes the Globe and Mail.
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The passenger train proposal is the brainchild of Banff residents Jan and Adam Waterous who, in addition to owning the Mount Norquay Ski Resort, possess a long-term lease on the Banff train station. The plan is finding friends in high places: specifically federal Infrastructure and Communities Minister Catherine McKenna, and Invest Alberta Director David Knight Legg, a former advisor to Premier Jason Kenney. Both have been singing the railway’s praises as, respectively, an environmental and economic boon.
“Some day, the train might even run on zero-emission hydrogen fuel, giving Alberta some much-needed green cred,” adds the Globe.
The allure of “sustainable rail service” between Calgary and the mountains is such that the Canada Infrastructure Bank is currently working on a feasibility study with the Alberta government. While they await results, “both the federal Liberals and Alberta’s United Conservative Party—not often inclined to get along—already have made clear the project ticks a lot of boxes, on the economy and the environment.”
But the boosterism is not unanimous. “Not everyone shares the unbridled enthusiasm for the train,” the Globe notes, with Canadian Pacific wanting assurances that the plans can be executed without “hindering capacity, or future growth, on its busy Western corridor lines.” Also concerned is the Stoney Nakoda Nation: while the community supports reducing traffic along the Trans-Canada Highway, the announcement about the train project came as a surprise, said Stoney Tribal Administration CEO Ryan Robb. The existing CP tracks already bisect the Stoney Nakoda community of Morley, and adding a second line “would require a land surrender—a complicated process.”
An alternative that would not cause further intrusion into the community would be to establish a First Nation-owned bus transportation company.
“We see rail as the potential option. However, it’s not the only option,” said Robb.
There are also conservation concerns. To Banff resident Harvey Locke, focusing on reducing the number of cars through the Calgary-to-Banff corridor misses the real problem: that there are simply too many visitors venturing into the fragile mountain ecosystem.
“He argues that the park needs to consider absolute limits on crowds at some sites,” writes the Globe.
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