A group of Canadian wildlife conservationists is once again speaking out about a proposed passenger rail project that would connect the Calgary International Airport to Banff.
On Friday, the organizations said they’re becoming increasingly concerned that the project is ignoring multiple wildlife and environmental issues.
“Roads, trails, power lines and railways are all linear disturbances,” said Hilary Young with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. “Adding one more to the 130 or so kilometres from Calgary to Banff corridor will further fracture wildlife populations and reduce available habitat.
“Adding a high-frequency, high-speed rail line within an internationally significant wildlife corridor will have far-reaching implications for multiple species, including grizzly bears.”
The rail link project has been in talks for several years, but in December the company behind the project, Liricon Capital Ltd., announced it had submitted a new proposal to the Alberta government in hopes the rail line could be constructed as a public-private partnership pegged at $1.5 billion.
Sarah Elmeligi with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Southern Alberta Chapter (CPAWS) said conservationists are worried there isn’t enough transparency and they want to be formally included if the project moves forward.
“It seems very premature to be talking about this project as if it’s a done deal when there’s a lot of questions and blanks,” Elmeligi said. “Our hope is that we can actually become a formal part of these consultations.
“It’s very difficult for animals to make a living in the Bow Valley right now.”
Meanwhile, on Friday, Liricon Capital said no final investment decision had been made by either the government or the company, which is required in order to move into the construction and implementation phase.
“Amongst the Calgary Airport – Banff Rail (CABR) project’s many benefits, including labour mobility and strengthening the tourism economy,” said Liricon Capital’s managing director Jan Waterous, “the project will dramatically enhance the environment by reducing the number of vehicles on the road.
“With potential to be hydrogen-powered, the system will allow visitors to travel from the Calgary airport through the Bow Valley on a zero-emissions train to Canada’s flagship national park.”
Waterous added the rail line would be built within the CP Rail right-of-way by twinning the existing track, allowing it to operate within an existing major freight corridor. The company said there would also be the opportunity to replicate wildlife mitigations developed for the Trans Canada Highway including wildlife fencing and crossings.
“Liricon/Plenary — CABR’s co-developers — have worked with leading experts to identify opportunities for the system to reduce greenhouse gases and protect wildlife,” Waterous said. “(We) welcome the opportunity to continue to receive input from the conservationist community, the municipalities, Indigenous peoples, and the public-at-large during the next phase of the project – Phase 4 design.
“Design development will continue to be open, transparent and extensive for this transformational project for Alberta.”
CPAWS is also hoping the province will look at utilizing the Trans Canada Highway as a way to get people to Banff instead of increasing development in the area.
“I’m still unclear on why we need a train. Why can’t a shuttle bus fill this same service?” Elmeligi questioned. “If it’s about public transportation, we should be looking at the public transportation options.”
Rob Williams, the press secretary for Alberta’s minister of Transportation, said the government is still reviewing the proposal.
“We have not made any decisions or financial commitments concerning the project.”
– with files from The Canadian Press