A train or year-round bus between Calgary and Banff would require federal or provincial support: study

A joint study by Bow Valley municipalities has determined that year-round bus or passenger rail service between Calgary and Banff National Park is feasible, as long as other levels of government contribute money.

Regional mass transit system would help reduce congested highways in and around Banff

A study released today found a passenger rail service or bus between Calgary and Banff national park would be feasible. (CBC)

A joint study by Bow Valley municipalities has determined that year-round bus or passenger rail service between Calgary and Banff National Park is feasible, as long as other levels of government contribute money. 

The study, commissioned by Banff, Canmore, Cochrane, Improvement District 9 and Calgary, examined ways to reduce private vehicle congestion to and from, and within, the park. 

"With more than 50 per cent of day visitors to Banff National Park coming from the Calgary region, mass transit is an obvious way to reduce the growing impacts of vehicle traffic," said Dave Schebek, chair of Improvement District 9, based in Lake Louise, in a news release.

Traffic in and around Banff National Park has spurred discussions of bus and rail service between Banff and Calgary. (CBC)

Calgary Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said the city is investing heavily in transit and that the future is regional.

Cochrane's mayor, Jeff Genung, said regional mass transit "could revolutionize the Bow Valley."

Costs of service

Bus service capital costs are estimated to range from $8.1 million to $19.6 million, with yearly operating costs of about $2 million before fares are considered. 

Rail is obviously more cost intensive, with capital costs between $660 million and $680 million and operating costs of $8.1 million to $9.1 million per year that would have to be subsidized.

Passenger rail ridership is estimated between 220,000 and 620,000 per year in the first year, on the full route. (CBC)

The study, conducted by CPCS Transcom, envisions various scenarios and fare levels, including single-deck or double-decker buses, and passenger trains travelling on tracks that would run parallel to existing CP Rail tracks.

The study recommends a central Calgary rail station in East Village, which would have "nearly direct connectivity to the planned Green Line station," or a station near the Sunalta C-Train station at the west end of downtown if the Victoria Park stop doesn't work. 

The study estimates a bus service could have total ridership ranging from 200,000 to 490,000 bus boardings per year. (CBC)

There would be an additional stop in northwest Calgary near the Stoney Trail overpass at Bearspaw Dam Road N.W. 

Bus stops are envisioned to use existing infrastructure like C-Train stations in Calgary. The bus option, however, would bypass Cochrane.


One-way bus fares from Calgary would range up to $15. Round trips would be slightly cheaper than two one-way fares.

Rail tickets would be up to $15 one way, according to the report.

The study is a first step in the process of developing a mass transit system in the Bow Valley, but it's a step that had politicians in affected communities swooning on Wednesday. 

Passenger train to Banff? 0:47

Visions of people being able to work in Banff and live in Calgary were shared with a news conference crowd, but the main thrust was a reduction in cars and trucks clogging the Trans-Canada and the park.

According to the study, 93 per cent of visitors to Banff (3.89 million people a year) arrive in personal vehicles.

"In the busiest months of July and August, roadway capacity in Banff was exceeded, and congestion or substantial congestion occurred on 97 per cent of days in 2017, up from 15 per cent in 2013," reads the study.

"We have to find alternatives. I don't think we have another option," said Genung. 

No timeline

Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen pointed to a business in her community that is pushing for a train link to Calgary and said future conversations will involve multiple stakeholders. 

And Carra said Calgary-based CP Rail, which owns the right of way where a future train might travel, is aware of the study and open to the idea. 

No one, however, is willing to put a timeline on when a transit system could be up and running. 

"I think we're all very anxious to move this concept forward," said Sorensen. "That being said, we're not naïve."

If the link below doesn't work, you can read the report here.

About the Author

Drew Anderson is a web journalist at CBC Calgary. Like almost every journalist working today, he's won a few awards. He's also a third-generation Calgarian. You can follow him on Twitter @drewpanderson. Contact him in confidence at Signal contact upon request. CBC Secure Drop:


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.