Well, the Edmonton to Calgary high speed train is back in the news lately. Here’s my thoughts on it.
- It has to be a 1-hour service. This means a train capable of around 300 km/h. Anything less, and it wouldn’t be any better than the three hour drive of today. A one-hour train ride will compete with the airlines, but would be far more comfortable than a 9 or 19 seat commuter plane, and more roomy than than a regular passenger jet.
- Passenger tickets should be priced competitively with airfare. The less expensive it is, the more people will take the train over driving. All seats should be “first class” with the latest in video and internet technologies.
- Vehicle tickets should be priced in a similar manner as the Channel Tunnel (England to France) or BC Ferries routes to and from Vancouver Island. If it’s too expensive, it won’t be used.
- Tickets should be priced in such as follows: The current trip to Calgary via Bus, or Car takes around 3 hours. The non-express bus can take 5-6 hours. Planes take about 45 minutes travel time, but pre-boarding security delays and the wait for luggage afterwards can easily push this over two hours. Airlines are not that great about running on schedule. So a one hour train ride with minimal boarding and luggage delays would save one to two hours per person. I don’t know what the current average hourly wage in Alberta is, but let’s assume a fairly low average wage of $15/hour. You’ve just saved someone two hours or $30. Now you have to cover the cost to build the service (the mortgage), the cost to run and maintain the service (the electricity and maintenance), the cost of the staff to run the service (wages) and still make a profit for the company (and its investors) running the service. Let’s assume that a $5 billion system requires 10% of the building cost to run each year, and you want to pay off the “mortgage” over 25 years (don’t forget the interest). This means that the system will cost around $1 billion per year to run. Now we have to make an assumption on passenger numbers. Let’s say 1000 people per day to start off. That works out to around $2700/ticket. Reasonable? No. 10000 people per day? $270/ticket. Heck, is this thing even reasonable? Economical?
- Moving on. Stations should be located at:
- Old Strathcona in Edmonton with a Streetcar link to Downtown Edmonton and the LRT (Passengers only). The streetcar line already runs from Old Strathcona to Grandin LRT Station. Turn this line into a regular, all-season service.
- Somewhere near the Edmonton International Airport with a direct link from the train station to the air terminal (Passengers and Vehicles). Initially the link from the train station to the air terminal will be provided by buses, but if demand is sufficient, an LRT or Streetcar link could be built.
- Red Deer area (Passengers and Vehicles). Transit service in and out of Red Deer should be provided.
- Somewhere near the Calgary International Airport with a direct link from the train station to the air terminal (Passengers and Vehicles). The direct link will initially be bus service and if demand is sufficient, an LRT or Streetcar link could be built.
- Downtown Calgary at the old train station (Passengers only). Rail lines already run through this area.
- The route should run as close to the Queen Elizabeth II highway as possible so as to be very visible. This would also help with noise concerns as anyone living close to the highway has no expectation of quiet anymore. A high-speed train is not capable of making stops in every town along the route, nor should it. This may make smaller communities along the route upset, but high speed trains require many kilometres to stop, and with the spacing of the existing communities it wouldn’t be practical to make those stops. A slower train service along the CPR right of way could link those communities to the high-speed train stations on the outskirts of Edmonton, Calgary or Red Deer if there’s enough demand. With a one-hour travel time, daily commuting along the entire corridor becomes possible.
- Wherever possible it should run on existing rights of way. It has to be entirely grade separated and fenced. There is no safe ground crossing possible for a train travelling at 300 km/h. This also will require wildlife and farm animal crossings.
- Some method of keeping the line operating in all weather conditions (-40C to +40C, high winds, torrential thunderstorms, heavy snowfall) will be required. Stations should be large enough to accomodate an entire train’s worth of people in case of emergency closures.
That’s my thoughts so far. Personally I would like to see it built. Tickets should be around $50 to $100 for a passenger, and maybe another $100 for a vehicle with passengers (you can stay in your car during the trip or pay extra for a seat). Since you’re saving someone at least half a tank of gas, and two hours of time, and wear and tear on a vehicle, this may be very reasonable. I would likely visit Calgary more often.