A bullet train in Calgary?

I just came across a rather … well, odd article on CBC.ca. It’s a blueprint for 2018. Apparently, the Calgary City council thinks that there should be a bullet train from here to Fort McMurray.
Someone’s been sniffing oil fumes too much, methinks.
Yes, this is me, the Train Stalker, saying that a high-speed train in Alberta is insane. Completely. Why, you ask?

  • Who is going to pay the $3-4 billion to build a dedicated grade-separated, high-speed rail network? Don’t look to either CP or CN.
  • Similarly, who runs it? If it’s VIA, expect the service to have constant problems, since budgets to run high-speed are much higher than regular trains, and VIA‘s got enough budgetary problems as it is.
  • Do we honestly think there would be enough use of the trains to make them even remotely cost-effective? WestJet is pretty darn cheap, y’know…
  • The provincial government was looking to shore up the existing lines up north to help move heavy equipment by train. CN passed on the work (they own the lines) after realising the cost to build up the service wasn’t worth the revenue. Take that as a subtle hint for new lines.
  • It hits -40 in many places, with a lot of snow. I don’t know of many (read: any) high-speed lines that regularly go through such conditions. Hokkaido in Japan is the nearest, and even that’s not as severe.

Politically, it strikes me as odd that anyone would stand up behind this as a good idea, since it’ll likely be a government that owns it, and it would probably become a white elephant. Very cool, and I’d ride it just for the sake of riding it — but governments have been voted out of office for stuff like this.
All of that said, it’s totally the green option. Run the train often enough, and you have less cars (less automobile pollution) and less planes (less aviation pollution). It’s also a nicer way to travel long distances. And Canada’s full of that distance thing.
Mind you, the bullet train wasn’t the only “odd” thing in that report:

  • Building a ring road in Calgary. Um… aren’t we doing that already?
  • Where is the mention of expanding Calgary Transit? For the love of Pete, people — why are you trying to link together cities when [[Calgary Transit Sucks|we can’t even sort ourselves out]]?
  • A covered skywalk or monorail between the Telus Convention Centre and the Stampede facilities. What, the C-Train isn’t good enough for you already? (See previous note about public transit.)
  • An international aerospace hub. If there was a way to eloquently describe my blank stare at this one, I would. But I’m simply not that good a writer.

I offer one thought to the people who came up with this: Let’s blueprint something for success, please? Around my office, we ask people to set SMART goals. It’s an acronym, with the “R” standing for “realistic”. Which these blueprints really seem to be missing.
If you want success, you needn’t look further than our own front door. We have three overloaded hospitals, our transit system is not keeping pace with the need, ambulances are running short on availability regularly, and if you haven’t thought about our water supply availability, you might want to consider that soon, too.

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  1. I understand your objective opinion on these solutions but they would do a great deal to make Calgary a better city. High speed rail from Calgary to Edmonton would be awesome from my viewpoint as I travel that route frequently and spend a ridiculous amount of my time waiting in airports and twice as much going through security measures. Hook the trains up to the airports and let them rumble as a great connector. The planes from Calgary to Edmonton don’t even finish ascending before they descend….waste of fuel.
    While these plans may or may not become reality, at least the province of Alberta and City of Calgary are doing some planning which is unlike anything we get from the moron politicians out east who don’t like to even offer potential solutions to the $1.50 litre gas price that is coming.
    Encourage discussion but don’t write off these projects based on a price tag alone. They have a public benefit in the long run just like developing the oilsands did years ago. No one put a price tag on the environmental destruction the oilsands have produced which should be deducted from the revenues they produced. There is more to costs in a project than simply capital investment. Take that from me and I’m no greenie.

  2. Hi Tim!
    Excellent points. For the record, I wasn’t so much trying to write off the ideas (I fully believe in people coming up with unrestricted concepts), but I would like to see a little realism put behind them.
    My major issue is that Calgary is looking too far beyond its own borders without resolving its own problems first. Where’s the train to the airport? It’s not in any pains I’ve seen, and unless I missed something the bullet train wouldn’t go there, either. The commuter system in this city is enough to drive anyone mad, and while I sympathise with your regular commute to Edmonton (I’ve driven the #2 many times), there’s more people who need public transit in Calgary than there are people who’ll travel on a bullet train.
    We need to have the $1.50+ gas before real change will start. (I’d loving nothing more than for the Canadian and Alberta governments to jack up the taxes to cover the Kyoto costs. Tomorrow.)
    I’m sure, as a regular Calgary-Edmonton commuter, you’ve seen the state of vehicles in this province. Huge. There are far too many pickups (for people who don’t need pickups) and SUVs (a massive waste of resources and a poor excuse for supposed safety).
    Dave Bronconnier was on 92.1 this morning talking with Jerry Forbes about how private industry would likely be the major contributor to this, as governments don’t really make the changes — private industry does. To that end, I wholly agree. But on that end, I’m having trouble believing private industry (read: profit-minded) wanting to plunk down the cash to build something like that which might not produce financial returns. I’ve been reading rail discussion lists for years now, and the same problems always creep back in — money.

  3. Not sure what that’s supposed to link to, but I only see the homepage of CFRA.
    That said, yes, other places (namely Toronto-Montreal) are looking for bullet trains. Reality is — there were faster trains back in the 1970s. CN (and VIA) demonstrated the UAC TurboTrain, to not a lot of success. The environment at the time was about cars and planes, and not about rapid rail movement. Maybe times have changed, but we’ll not likely see this beastie ever again.

  4. High Speed is too costly to build. It is to unprofitable for private operators. There is no guarantee of ridership. The City and province should instead focus on public transit, namely LRT.

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