Canadian construction company aims to see high-speed rail connect Edmonton and Calgary

Canadian construction giant EllisDon is spearheading a new effort to connect Alberta’s largest municipalities by rail.

EllisDon, based in Mississauga, Ont., announced Thursday it has formed a partnership to advance the development of a high-speed rail running through Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary.

The Prairie Link project is estimated to cost about $9 billion, EllisDon said in a news release Thursday.

EllisDon and its team have proposed the project through the provincial government’s unsolicited proposal framework.

A high-speed rail corridor between Edmonton and Calgary has long been a discussion point in Alberta, dating back to at least the 1970s.

In 2014 the idea came up at the legislature again but the standing committee on Alberta’s economic future concluded the government should not invest in such a transit system as the corridor population would not be enough to be profitable.

But Prairie Link project director Jeffrey Hansen-Carlson said the group will be conducting its own analysis and bringing innovative ideas to the table.

“I think people are going to begin to realize that we are actually thinking differently here,” he said Thursday. 

“On a project such as this is incredibly complex, it’s never as easy as taking the population, estimating how many people are going to ride the train and then multiplying that by the ticket price.”

Unlike the proposed TransPod hyperloop project for the same Alberta corridor, Prairie Link would be using more traditional high-speed rail technology seen throughout Asia and Europe.

Hansen-Carlson said the project would be funded entirely through the private sector. It is now working on a business case, expected to be completed in about half a year.

Prairie Link has a memorandum of understanding with Alberta Transportation that contains no financial commitment, Hansen-Carlson said.

“The MOU essentially sets the stage for a cooperative relationship between Prairie Link and the government to support project development,” he said, adding that regulatory hurdles will be a point of conversation as there is little regulation for high-speed rail in Alberta.

Discussions with stakeholders underway

The project has commenced Indigenous engagement and set up an advisory committee to guide the project, the news release said.

Hansen-Carlson said the group has started discussions with city managers, airports and Indigenous communities to figure out what they want.

“That really is going to be what drives the tangible nature of the project, is feedback we get from the key stakeholders.”

The group is considering phasing the project, Hansen-Carlson said, but could have “shovels in the ground” in about two years.

Other project partners include Calgary-based Centricity Transport and Aecom, he said.

EllisDon has also been a part of the project development team for the Prairie Sky gondola and a contractor for the Edmonton LRT Valley Line.

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