Federal study will look at feasibility of train linking Calgary airport, downtown and Banff

Passenger rail service linking the Calgary International Airport, downtown Calgary and Banff could be in the cards, depending on the results of a newly announced feasibility study.

Rail service popular between Calgary and Rockies for decades before it was shut down

A freight train winds through the mountains in Banff National Park. A Crown corporation is funding a feasibility study to look at a passenger train line connecting Calgary's airport, the city's downtown and the Banff townsite. (Lori Kupsch)

Passenger rail service linking the Calgary International Airport, downtown Calgary and Banff could be in the cards, depending on the outcome of a newly announced feasibility study.

The Canada Infrastructure Bank — a federal Crown corporation established three years ago to fund projects deemed to be in the public interest that are expected to generate revenue — will study the idea and pay for the study, Alberta's government announced Tuesday.

"Certainly arriving by train in Banff would be a fantastic experience. It's what Banff was built on, in terms of visitors coming by rail," said Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen.

4 million visitors each year

The 130-kilometre line could see up to eight departures per day from the airport to Banff, with stops in Cochrane, Morley and Canmore, and an express service from the Calgary International Airport to downtown Calgary every 20 minutes.

If the train line is built, it would be a public-private partnership.

Approximately four million people visit Banff National Park each year, and 29,000 vehicles pass through the park gates on Highway 1 each day in the summer — 5,000 more than the park's capacity, Sorensen said.

"Anything that could help us shrink the number of vehicles on the road would help us sustain the Banff National Park experience."

Because the town is located in a national park, it can't build its way out of congestion by doubling road widths or creating more parking lots, the mayor noted.

She said a train could potentially make Banff a more affordable destination for tourists. A train could also link up with the Banff-Canmore bus system, meaning travellers could experience the region without ever needing a car.

Last year, Banff partnered with Calgary, Canmore, Cochrane, Lake Louise and Morley to study mass transit solutions for the corridor. It found that a train wouldn't be feasible without provincial or federal funding.

Banff's history is tied to rail.

The Town of Banff was originally established as a tourist destination, after Canadian Pacific Railway workers stumbled across the Sulphur Mountain hot springs in the 1880s.

The Rocky Mountaineer still connects Vancouver and Banff, but doesn't extend passenger service to Calgary.

Passengers wait to board The Canadian in Banff in 1955. A new study will look at the feasibility of building a new line to resurrect passenger rail service between Banff and Calgary. (Nicholas Morant/Town of Banff)

Calgary was once home to a grand CP Rail Station, until it was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the Calgary Tower.

The platforms and tracks remained in use underneath the tower by Via Rail, which ran a passenger train between Banff and Calgary until the service was discontinued in 1990. Those platforms still exist, sealed to the public, under the tower.

Calgary's intracity light rail service doesn't connect with the city's airport, which is served by bus.

John Casola, chief investment officer of the Canada Infrastructure Bank, said he was first approached by a private citizen about the idea: Adam Waterous.

Waterous, along with his wife Jan, owns the long-term lease to the Banff Train Station. The couple have been outspoken advocates of Calgary-Banff passenger rail.

Casola said the idea held potential, so the bank began discussions with the Alberta government.

"Once we started talking about it, the original project was from Calgary to Banff. But the project we're actually looking at now has evolved to cover a link from the Calgary airport to downtown Calgary, and then from Calgary to Banff," Casola said, adding that the track between the airport and downtown would be a new track, while the track to Banff would be built alongside the CP Rail line.

"The project really has this double-barrelled benefit, of economically benefiting Calgary, going on to benefit Banff, all the while reducing GHG emissions and providing that stimulus."

With files from Andrew Brown


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.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?