Banff ponders bringing back passenger train service from Calgary

The Town of Banff is applying for a provincial municipal sustainability grant to pay for a study into new passenger rail service between Calgary, Canmore, Banff, and Lake Louise.

Calgarians could have rail service to the mountains not seen since 1990

A Town of Banff manager hopes summer trial runs of a passenger train from Calgary to Banff and Lake Louise could be happening in 3 to 5 years. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

The Town of Banff is applying for funding to study the idea of bringing back a passenger train between Calgary, Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise.

Until 1990, Calgarians and tourists had the option of taking a VIA Rail passenger train, called The Canadian, to the mountains.

With provincial funding being made available for municipal sustainability, it's an idea that's making a comeback, according to Adrian Field, Manager of Engineering with the Town of Banff.

"What we'd like to explore is the notion of giving Calgarians and international visitors to Banff the option to travel on sustainable transportation," he explained to the Eyeopener's David Gray.

The service would run to Canmore and Banff, with the terminus at Lake Louise.

Field is optimistic the Banff rail travel idea is a strong candidate for the Alberta Community Partnership grant.

"This seems to fit well … [it] helps to diversify the economy of the province, too."

As evidence of the need for more sustainable transportation choices, Field cited the public transportation infrastructure that has been built in recent years in the mountains.

He said increased regional bus transit and the paved Legacy bike trail between Canmore and Banff have attracted unexpectedly high numbers of users.

Feasibility study

As part of its exploration, Field said the Town of Banff needs to find out what kinds of rail upgrades would be required to the existing infrastructure.

The questions include whether additional rail capacity such as a side track for passing would be needed, and what type and size of train would be appropriate.

Town planners also need to determine what the ridership would be, and other logistical issues like parking and transportation within the towns. 

Why the service was stopped in the first place

Passenger rail service was discontinued because VIA, a Crown corporation established in 1977, was losing money on it.

"VIA was trying to be all things to all people, and running a year-round service," said Field.

"We're not sure that's viable."

In 1989, its last full year of operation The Canadian had 539,000 passengers and lost $127.6 million.

Under then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney VIA underwent major cuts to its federal subsidy.

The service was carved up among various private operators, and Calgarians were left to take tour buses or private vehicles to the mountain towns.


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