Our View (Editorial)
Train's future needs path
reprinted from Red Deer Advocate (John Stewart) November 4, 2010
There are some disturbing
parallels between the laborious and acrimonious process to establish
a route for electricity transmission lines in Alberta and the
high-speed train proposal.
A new study commissioned by the Alberta Association of Municipal
Districts and Counties warns that an Edmonton-to-Calgary high-speed
rail service could have a dramatic impact on rural life in the heart
of the province.
The report says a high-speed rail line could cut off communities,
causing transportation and emergency services issues; split farmland
holdings and disrupt farming operations; hamper wildlife migration;
and place communities at economic peril.
The report was initiated so that rural concerns related to the
project were put on the table early in the process.
It's a prudent step by the municipal association, given the
unsettled -- and unsettling
-- nature of the move to establish new power transmission lines.
The process to establish power lines has stumbled, reversed and
retrenched, and still no end is in sight. The provincial government
has been accused of underhanded behaviour; of short-circuiting due
process; of ignoring the wishes of its constituents; and of even
failing to demonstrate clearly the need for transmission lines.
These criticisms are pointed and fair.
So it is reasonable to be concerned about the process to establish
high-speed rail service in Alberta's corridor -- and the rationale
behind the drive for high-speed rail.
Earlier this year, the province announced that it was developing a
40-year transportation plan, with the expectation that new
infrastructure would need to service an Alberta population of about
six million people, about four million of whom would live in the
Red Deer could be a community of as many as 300,000 people by then.
The strategic plan is intended to examine all key facets of
transportation: rail, roads and airports.
But a 40-year timeline is long-term and the need to alleviate
congestion on Hwy 2 and to pioneer energy conservation strategies
would seem much more immediate.
Alberta Transportation Minister Luke Ouellette (who happens to be
the MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, an area across which a high-speed
line could well traverse) has said it could take 10 to 15 years to
get high-speed trains on the rails.
Proponents have suggested that a much faster timeline should be
In June, Anthony Pearl told a Red Deer audience that high-speed rail
should be approved by the end of the year and operational by 2014.
Pearl is the director of Urban Studies at Vancouver's Simon Fraser
Institute and co-author of a book called Transportation
Revolutions: Moving People and Freight Without Oil.
Into this climate of uncertainty and the need for action (the
province has apparently secured five station sites, in Edmonton,
Calgary, those cities' international airports, and Red Deer) comes
the report from the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and
The intent is clear: there are many stakeholders here beyond the
people high-speed rail would directly serve and the commercial
entities that would build, service and operate it.
The province's wide-ranging transportation strategy is expected to
be ready in 2011.
It must be part forecast and part roadmap. And it had better take
into account the impact of development on all Albertans.
Otherwise we'll have disaster on our hands that will make the mess
over power transmission lines look puny.