A train to Banff

I am a big fan of lots of mayors and councilors in Canada. One in the running for top billing is the mayor of Banff. Her town is over run by traffic and she wants to do something about it. It’s in a national park so widening roads and building parkades is not a great solution. Instead she has been advocating for investments in public transit. Something like a train.

Every long weekend during the summer the people of Calgary and every tourist in Southern Alberta descend on Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise. It becomes a large parking lot and driving back is enough to make you want to give up all together. Even weekdays are horrible.

The problem is obvious and so is the solution: open a train. Too many cars and people driving? Get cars off the road and develop a more efficient way of getting people around.

The Town of Banff is launching a feasibility study looking at different public transport options for the Calgary-Cochrane-Canmore-Banff corridor. (I’d love to see Lake Louise included in any train scheme as well.) It will look at three options: using existing tracks, building new tracks and bus service.

Bus service would only work if it had separate right of ways. The other two could work in combination. To begin with existing tracks could be used. That would present the challenge of competing with freight. Legislation would be needed to prioritize passenger rail over freight to reduce journey times and ensure that trains arrive on schedule. Building track would take a long time.

There’s definitely demand. In 2015–16 3.8 million people visited the Town of Banff and the number grows each year. That’s the equivalent of the population of Alberta or every person in Montreal. 93 per cent of those people arrived by car.

Calgary, Cochrane and Canmore were all growing according to the 2016 Census data released this week. A train could facilitate commuting along the corridor. This could be the beginning of Calgary finding a new way of thinking about the municipalities that surround the City and how people move around the region.

There are a lot of Albertans, 61 per cent of those visiting the parks area, who want to pop out to the mountains. Everyone I know would gladly hop on the train instead of having to slog out and then find a place to park — you have not experienced pain until you’ve tried to park at Lake Louise on a long weekend. Imagine how much easier it would be to go to the Canmore Folk Festival or events at the Banff Centre.

All that said it’s just a report. Anything could happen. It is nice to see a politician and a town putting passenger rail on the agenda. This isn’t the grandiose high speed rail talk that always kills the Calgary-Edmonton line. This is a mayor fed up with traffic who wants a better solution.

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