Last week, Liricon and Plenary two of the key players in spearheading a passenger rail line from Calgary to Banff made an official proposal to deciding groups. The 1.5 billion dollar passenger rail line is now considered to be one step closer to reality, in the design stage, and looking for approval from the province. If the project were to go ahead, it would have a profound effect on Cochrane as it would be one of the stops on the 150 kilometre route.
Mayor Jeff Genung has been advocating for the project for years now and says, “I’m extremely excited, I’ve been talking about this project for four years.” He is pleased to confirm that the overall mood is a positive one for the project and is cautiously optimistic that it may actually come to fruition by 2025.
When asked about the latest update which saw Liricon submitting a proposal to Alberta Transportation, Invest Alberta, and the Canada Infrastructure Bank to push for a completion date of 2025, Genung says he is excited and hopeful. The mayor admits that previous meetings have resulted in a lot of wishful thinking, hoping, and dreaming but he admits this time around there appears to be a great deal of optimism saying, "Finally it looks like things are starting to reach towards the start line and it could become a reality and I think it’s a matter of not if but when it’s extremely exciting.” Genung took part in a meeting on November 27 with the Invest Alberta group that is helping push the project forward. There were some heavy hitters, in attendance including the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Transportation, Associate Minister of Energy, the Plenary group out of Quebec, all the mayors from Calgary, Cochrane, Canmore, and Banff as well as the president of the Airport in Calgary. It was a big group and Genung says it was very encouraging. The money is in place it is just a matter now of if the province will sign off on it.
Genung says, “They are looking to have this in place and operational by the end of 2025. That’s a tight timeline and it’s exciting. From a Cochrane perspective, we were highlighted in the presentation as one of the communities that have been very forward-thinking and really ready for this to occur in our community. Given the transit hub sight down on Railway St. we’ve already penciled in a train stop so we’ve positioned ourselves perfectly for this.” The mayor says now it is just a matter of when and how to prepare our community for a possible influx of tourists and commuters which is as far as Genunug is concerned is a good problem to have.
It has been nearly 30 years since there has been a passenger rail line between Calgary and Banff. In Canada, freight became the focus for the rails but Genung points out, “The cool thing about this is there will be a secondary track built so that it can be dependable, reliable service that is not interrupted by moving the freight.” Genung says one of the details that was discussed at the meeting, but not in his opinion touted enough, was the fact that they are contemplating hydrogen locomotives. “Hydrogen power would be instrumental and transformational for the province.” He feels it would send a powerful message to the country and the world that Alberta does care about the environment. With the added fact that the UCP government has already been flirting with the idea of becoming a major supplier of hydrogen, it would seem remiss for them not to use it in their own backyard. Genung says, “We could be a leader and build a project such as this, and I think they said it would be the first hydrogen locomotive in North America. So, that would really put us on the map provincially and internationally.”
The mayor had a chance to chat with the Transportation Minister and reminded him that the province is on the brink of spending upwards of 80 million dollars on one interchange in Cochrane's transportation network and that’s just one project of many to the tune more millions of dollars. So, Genung pointed out to the Minister, “If the train can take a significant percentage of motorists off the highways, perhaps the need for some of those (projects) is a little more distant.” Hence, a cost-saving in the end for the province that would likely be music to their ears. Plus, Genung adds, “Not very often, do you get to be involved in something that can shape and shift the future of not just our community of our entire region and our province.”
The effects would be profound for Cochrane and all the communities on the line, “Transformational again for moving people throughout the Bow Valley corridor, I think they said every 15 minutes from the Airport to downtown Calgary and then it would be a two-hour ride from downtown to Banff. I’m not sure how often or how frequent they would stop in Cochrane, but at least every two hours would be the minimum and that’s great!” says Genung.
Genung says all the communities on the line, including Calgary, Cochrane, Morley, Canmore, and Banff have been meeting together to see what they can do as communities to push the project forward. “We’re meeting in early January, to put our heads together again and really put some pressure on the province to say this is something our communities really believe in, are really behind, and want to see it happen as soon as possible.”
There will no doubt some hurdles and maybe even delays, but the general consensus is a passenger rail line between Calgary and Banff is definitely edging closer to reality.
Maybe by December of 2025, “Next stop Cochrane!” will be a frequently heard phrase.