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New Calgary-Banff rail project proposal raises concerns among conservation groups

By Luis Armando Sanchez Diaz, March 15 2022—

A proposed rail project that aims to connect Calgary’s International Airport and Banff train station has raised concerns among conservation groups in the province who have highlighted the environmental impacts it can have in the region.

The proposal has been presented to the Alberta Ministry of Transportation and Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) by Liricon Capital Ltd., the project’s main developer. The project “will increase labour mobility, diversify Alberta’s economy and enhance the environment,” according to a press release by the main developer. 

“The Proposal is structured as a public-private-partnership (P3), which contemplates financing from private and institutional capital and the CIB. That approach creates the opportunity for the Government of Alberta to leverage private sector capital and expertise and CIB financial support,” read the statement.

The project has been endorsed by several government officials such as Cochrane Mayor Jeff Genung, Canmore Mayor Sean Krausert as well as by Corrie DiManno, Mayor of Banff and Mayor Jyoti Gondek of Calgary.  

“This will put Calgary on track to help meet our climate targets through sustainable transit, boost our economy, and provide a connection for Calgarians to access the airport from downtown,” said Gondek in a statement. “The low-carbon rail line will be a game changer for the tourism sector, bringing visitors downtown to enjoy all that Calgary has to offer, adding Banff as a bonus addition to their travel.”

The announcement of the project has since raised concerns among conservation groups about the lack of attention to the environment and wildlife of the area.

“The route would cross multiple ecosystems from the prairies to the mountains, potentially impacting dozens of species at risk and further fragment important wildlife habitat,” expressed a group of conservationists from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) Southern Alberta in a press release provided to the Gauntlet.

The team is requesting to be part of the consultation process of the project to highlight the environmental impacts the project could have. The statement indicated that since 2019, conservation groups have raised concerns on the negative ecological effects a passenger train line could have in the region.

“At the time, conservationists stated interest in forthcoming consultations and seeing the results of Environmental Impact Assessments that quantified the impacts to wildlife and their habitats,” read the statement.

Tony Clevenger of The Bow Valley Naturalists highlighted a lack of transparency in the project. 

“The consequences of doubling the rail line may lead to increased wildlife mortality, changes in gene flow and ultimately impair the ability of wildlife populations to persist over the long term,” he said.

“The speed at which this project is being fast-tracked and the lack of transparency should cause alarm and deep concern for all Canadians,” Clevenger said.

Moreover, Sarah Elmeligi of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Southern Alberta Chapter said that conservation groups will not endorse the project until the points they have raised are met.

“People come to these mountains to experience some of the best wilderness Alberta and Canada have to offer. Another rail line is likely to negatively impact the very wildlife and landscape that attracts visitors from all over the world,” she said. “We cannot support this project until there is more transparency and environmental concerns become part of the conversation.”

The project, if approved and implemented, is expected to be finalized in 2025 and will have a total cost of $1.5 billion. Albertans are estimated to pay around $20 per ticket.

Visit the Alberta government webpage to know more about the project and learn about other infrastructure plans for the province. Read the press release by the project’s main developer online.  

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