Re “Province called to do study on passenger rail from Calgary to Banff” (RMO February 13, 2020). As Canmore residents, we think passenger rail should be both welcomed and carefully considered as a massive game changer for the town.
The high cost of living in Canmore remains the primary socio-economic factor that drives individual decision-making. With the establishment of daily and affordable passenger rail service we expect that even more young families and employees will move out of the Bow Valley to, and commute from, more cost-effective bedroom communities around Calgary. Concurrently, we predict many professionals living in Calgary will relocate to Canmore and commute in the opposite direction. The ripple effects on the nature of our community, housing demand and school enrolment need to be understood and anticipated.
The tight labour market in Canmore causes many businesses to struggle to retain enough staff. Passenger rail could connect labour pools in Cochrane and Morley at a time when Bow Valley businesses are starving for employees. Of course, ticket prices will either make or break this opportunity.
Any passenger rail service will have to align with local public transit and intercept parking. Failure to allow for local residents to get to the station by bus or to leave their vehicle for the day, or to connect car-free visitors with local amenities, would undermine the success of a rail initiative from the get-go. Of course, the congregation of people in and around the railway station will provide an excellent local business opportunity to serve the needs of passengers as they embark and disembark from the train.
With respect to the environment, passenger rail, especially if powered by hydrogen electric engines such as the ones currently operating in Germany and shortly in the United Kingdom, has the potential to reduce hundreds of thousands of GHG emissions. It could do this by displacing millions of car trips between Calgary and the Bow Valley, including the white-knuckle ones that no one enjoys. On the flip side, we need to consider possible negative impacts on wildlife. How will another rail line impact species like elk, wolves and bears, and can this be mitigated with crossing structures before we increase train traffic going up and down CP’s tracks?
All of this begs an important question: how will Canmore be involved in the discussions that will directly impact its future? This project is of the nature that will affect Town of Canmore planning on many fronts. It is in Canmore’s best interests to hold a thoughtful and responsible discussion on how we can maximize the upside of passenger rail for our community while minimizing the downside.
Sean Krausert, past Chair of the Bow Valley Regional Transit Services Commission and a former two-term Canmore town councillor;
Ed Whittingham, energy policy and project consultant and former executive director of the Pembina Institute.