Calgary-Banff passenger rail project advances to development phase

July 16, 2021
The proposed project would build a rail link between Calgary International Airport and Banff National Park.

A proposal to build a 150-km (93.2-mile) passenger rail line between Calgary International Airport and Banff National Park has entered the development phase with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Invest Alberta Corporation, the government of Alberta’s Ministry of Transportation and the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB).

The passenger service would operate on dedicated tracks constructed within the existing Canadian Pacific freight rail corridor. The proposal includes up to seven stops at Calgary International Airport, downtown Calgary, Calgary Keith, Cochrane, Morley (Stoney Nakoda), Canmore and Banff. Up to 10 departures per day would shuttle passengers between the airport and one of Canada’s most popular destinations. The project would also offer significant congestion relief to vehicles using Hwy 1.

“The YYC-Calgary-Banff rail project has the potential to be the first airport-to-mountain community transit solution of its kind in North America, making Alberta an even more compelling destination for global visitors year-round. I’m proud of Invest Alberta’s work with Alberta Transportation and Canada Infrastructure Bank to explore innovative public-private partnerships like this passenger rail solution which may even be the first hydrogen train in North America. I know they will be working hard over the next several months to develop the economic and environmental benefits to Albertans and improve the attractiveness of visiting Calgary and Banff all year round for several million global visitors,” said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.

In 2020, the province and CIB conducted a feasibility study to evaluate the benefits of the proposed service. CIB says it continues to support the project and is still considering long-term investment. Alberta Transportation and CIB explain there has also been strong private sector interest demonstrated through an unsolicited proposal by Liricon Capital Ltd. to act as the project developer.

“The CIB's approach to flexible and innovative delivery of infrastructure is contributing to move this project closer to success. Our commitment to fund development costs is another example of our Project Accelerator initiative in action. We are excited to build on our strong partnership with the government of Alberta and look forward to collaborating on next steps,” said Ehren Cory, CEO of the Canada Infrastructure Bank.

The recently signed MOU provides for Invest Alberta to engage with the marketplace over the summer while the province continues to assess the project and is seeking input from municipalities and Indigenous communities. The province will also evaluate the potential to utilize a long-term P3 model.

Alberta’s Minister of Transportation Rajan Sawhney emphasized the potential of this project and said he looked forward to exploring the project with stakeholders.

“The return of passenger rail connecting Calgary and Banff has long been identified as a way to take traffic congestion off our highways and mountain roads, while improving the overall experience for people visiting Canada’s first national park. Bow Valley communities have been working to bring back affordable mass transit for a number of years and we are excited to see progress on development of an environmentally-responsible service that would connect workers with jobs throughout the valley, reduce vehicle emissions, and provide a fantastic way to enjoy this special place in the Rockies,” said Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Editor in Chief

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the magazine’s editorial direction and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.