Highlights from the Alberta High Speed Rail report

Yesterday the Alberta government released a report assessing the potential for high speed rail service in the Calgary-Edmonton corridor. The report, which has been sitting on the shelf for about a year, was commissioned by the province and was prepared by Transportation Economics & Management Systems, Inc. (or TEMS). There are actually three parts to the report, which you can download here:

The press release included a few highlights, but nothing incredibly satisfying:

  • Nearly 10 million passenger trips took place in the Calgary-Edmonton corridor in 2006, with the breakdown as follows: 91% were by automobile, 6% were by air, and 3% were by bus.
  • The faster the high speed train, the greater the ridership and revenues.
  • People said they were willing to pay fares ranging from $56 to $120 for a one-way trip. (To compare: the lowest fare in the next month on WestJet currently is $99, or by car I can make the trip on about $20 of gas.)

I decided to dig into the report a little further. I was struck initially by the numerical nature of it – if numbers and formulas scare you, avoid reading the report. There is some useful, easy-to-understand data as well though.

The diagram above illustrates the Calgary-Edmonton corridor, and the five stations that would be part of the high speed rail system: Downtown Edmonton, Suburban Edmonton, Red Deer, Suburban Calgary, and Downtown Calgary. Each of the three major centres is called a “super zone”, and includes the surrounding communities, at least for the purposes of the report.

The images above illustrate the four types of generic train technologies used to represent various technology classes.

  • Talgo – 125 mph or 200 km/hr – diesel
  • JetTrain – 150 mph or 240 km/hr – turbine electric
  • TGV – 200 mph or 320 km/hr – overhead electric
  • Maglev – 300 mph or 480 km/hr – magnetic levitation

According to Wikipedia, the fastest conventional train in the world is the French TGV which set a speed record of 574.8 km/hr. The fastest non-conventional train in the world is the Japanese JR-Maglev which set a speed record of 581 km/hr.

This table outlines the strategies/predictions for each of the above:

  125 mph 150 mph 200 mph 300 mph
Average travel time (h:min) 2:00 1:45 1:35 1:00
Frequency (roundtrips/day) 8 10 14 17
Fare (in cents/mile) 25 35 40 60
Maximum fare one-way (Calgary-Edmonton) $56 $80 $90 $120
Maximum fare one-way from Red Deer $28 $40 $45 $60
Ridership (in thousands) in 2051 2821 4301 7656 10745
Passenger revenues (in millions of 2006 $) in 2051 137.1 269.0 610.0 1127.9
Market share (2011-2051 is constant) 1.85% 3.10% 4.84% 6.73%

Some other data points:

  • Demand for travel in the corridor is predicted to triple in the time period 2006-2051.
  • Total benefits by super zone are as follows: Calgary (40-45%), Edmonton (30-35%), Red Deer (20-25%)
  • Economic impact from building the system would range from $4.6 billion to $33.4 billion, depending on the type of technology used.
  • Growth in the economy of 0.2 to 0.5 percent, depending on the type of technology used.
  • Between 3400 and 7162 long-term (40 year) jobs would be created across the province.

There’s a lot more data available in the report if you want to take the time to read it.

What’s next? The government says it will continue to look at various options for the province’s future transportation needs, including high speed rail. No decisions have been made at this time, and the report itself makes no recommendations. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of support for the idea at the moment.

I personally think if the province is going to be spending money on transit, it should be on city and regional transit. Both Edmonton and Calgary could use the assistance to improve their respective transit systems – something akin to MoveOntario 2020 and Toronto’s Transit City.

This issue certainly has legs, however. It has been brought up and discussed many times over the years. You can follow along and participate on Twitter using the hashtag #abhsr. For more general Alberta political topics, use #ableg. There’s some great commentary up on the stream already.

17 thoughts on “Highlights from the Alberta High Speed Rail report

  1. My problem is the $4.6B – $33.4B. This is a huge range indicating how many variables are involved. Plus, when was the last time a government contract came in on time and on budget. It’s a good idea in theory, but I don’t think that Alberta can make these kinds of gambles right now.

  2. Mark – The report doesn’t really comment on the cost or feasibility of building the system. As I’m sure you’ve heard, one idea would be to proceed with a public-private partnership (P3).

    Forrest – Yeah, definitely a huge range. As I mentioned above, there are more solid things they could spend this money one, for sure.

  3. I’m a little concerned about the routing through Edmonton. The province owns the High Level Bridge, and I’m sure that the government would love the station to be located right next to the Legislature grounds at an expanded Grandin Terminal station, but is that really the best use of the 110th St/Railtown Park corridor? There is more room for staging/maintenance at Strathcona Junction on the south side of the river near whyte ave. Since it looks like the province won’t be making any firm decisions on this any time soon, we need to be able to go ahead and maximize the value of that corridor for LRT use. Then in the end, when the province build the HSR with a Strathcona JCT terminus, the MLA’s can catch a one minute LRT ride over to the Leg/Grandin via Garneau.

  4. Agreed Jordan, there will need to be close evaluation of that land. If I’m not mistaken, however, that land is already assigned to the Alberta Multi-Use Corridor.

  5. Ah yes. Well I had penciled in some proposed LRT lines there, but I’m working on an option to have HSR connect both Strathcona // Yellowhead JCT’s as we speak. I.e. Edmonton North & South

    The benefit is that the HSR line could be extended north east towards both Forts Saskatchewan and McMurray via existing rail corridors along the yellowhead and fort road.


  6. There is one piece that no one is discussing. For Edmonton to continue to grow, we need to attract more business here. There are arguments that we need more head offices here as they mean more for an economy than branch offices. Edmonton is lacking in the head office department (with a few notable exceptions), especially when compared to our neighbours to the south – Calgary.

    With a high-speed rail service between the 2 cities, it will actually reduce the feasibility of Edmonton attracting head offices. Business likes to go where business is. Calgary would become an even bigger draw as getting to meetings in Edmonton becomes extremely easy. In fact, labour can live in one city and commute to the other for a relatively small fee – considering how quickly it can be done. Head office in Calgary, key exec living in Edmonton, worth the expense to commute each day as the commute may actually be shorter than living near Calgary and driving in with the increased traffic there.

    So, even though Edmonton will benefit some, it will make things worse here in the long run by us being unable to attract the large companies we need to help the city grow. In fact, why would some companies even have a branch in Edmonton when the trip to Calgary becomes that easy.

    Just my 2 cents.

  7. Paul: Edmonton can do without the Dell’s of the world. If there’s one thing that’s been proven true time and time again, it’s that local small and medium sized businesses are the primary engines of any urban economy. Local dollars go 3 times further than corporate non-local spending.

    What will be interesting to see is how WestJet and AirCanada handle the incresed and more efficient competition.

  8. Alright, here is my draft HSR proposal… I spend some time identifying the route north to Fort Mac, and a couple options heading into and through Edmonton. If anyone has access to the proposed Calgary approaches or an idea of what might make sense, feel free to make changes/improvements:


    If you’re able to make some additions/options for red deer and calgary, I’d be most gracious if you could email me the file back:

    jschroder at ddsi dot info

  9. Sorry Jordan, but Dell never put a head office here. They put a call centre here.

    PCL has created more wealth for the city than a number of small and medium businesses. Head offices create more jobs, more spinoffs, and more economic benefits as they then attract more business that wants to do business with the company. Businesses go where the decision makers are. Case in point are all of the oil companies. They are headquartered in Calgary even though Edmonton is closer to all of the oil in the province. Those head offices created a need for more businesses to start up to work with them and they are all in Calgary. Check out this article as it explains why head offices are important to a local economy (http://www.bcbc.com/Documents/ppv9n5.pdf). Sorry about the pdf thing, but they didn’t put it up as a web page.

  10. Hey, love the idea of a train between CGY and EDM. Just have a couple points about Paul’s comments.

    Yes, head-offices can be beneficial to a local economy, but without the small and mid-sized businesses, a city can not sustain itself. Smaller businesses are the bread and butter of an economy. It’s the same thing as a stock market, you can have tons of large companies being traded, but if you have no smaller business people investing, then your stock market crashes.

    But, I believe that should such a railway be built in Alberta, the strongest area that would benefit from the railway would be Red Deer due to it’s location. With it’s location in the middle of the two cities, the city would be preferable for businesses because of the shorter distance each way. It would be wiser for a corporation to have it’s office in Red Deer and have business people from Calgary and Edmonton commute to Red Deer rather than say EDM to CGY through RD.

    Another point that isn’t relevant to any of Paul’s comments, but Jordan mentioned it earlier, would be the competition between Air Canada and WestJet. If a train network was to occur, environmentalists and others would push to have CGY and EDM International airports closed and have one Alberta International Airport located in Red Deer. But likely Airlines would favor such an option because the airlines would no longer have to operate flights to/from both cities and flights to each city. Air Travel pollution in Alberta could drop by 40% because interprovincial/intercontinental/international flights would only land at the one airport. Such plan could be advantageous to citizens of Edmonton who wouldn’t have to drive/fly to Calgary to catch a flight for example to Frankfurt, Germany. For Calgarians it could definitely be helpful due to the high rate of aircraft noise due to how close the airport is to residential zones. And Central Alberta could benefit due to a busier and stronger local economy.

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