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Smith supportive of rail link between Calgary and Banff, Canmore

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Premier Danielle Smith says she'd like to see Calgary work with the province – and potentially private industry – to explore the creation of a rail link between the city and Canmore/Banff.

She made the suggestion in a statement released on Tuesday, in which she also asked Calgary councillors to consider expanding the city's CTrain network to the airport.

Smith says the creation of a rail link between Calgary and Canmore/Banff would benefit visitors, Calgarians and all Albertans in accessing "one of the world’s greatest natural wonders."

"It would also significantly boost international and domestic tourism while improving road safety and reducing strain on Highway 1 between Calgary and Banff as population growth and tourist traffic continue to grow," she said.

"I would also note the potential of utilizing hydrogen-powered locomotives in this endeavour, which would both reduce emissions and is aligned with our government’s vision to make Alberta a world leader in hydrogen technology research, development and manufacturing."

Earlier this year, Liricon Capital outlined its proposal for a daily rail service between Calgary and Banff, saying it was waiting on provincial dollars to make it a reality.

Jan Waterous of Liricon Capital said her company was looking for roughly $10 million from the province in the near future to go along with $750 million already committed by the company and Canada Infrastructure Bank for building the line.

At the time, former Alberta premier Jason Kenney said he was concerned about the cost to taxpayers.

"We are always prepared to make strategic investments in capital infrastructure," Kenney said. "But we don't think the government of Alberta's core business is to provide massive decade-long subsidies to operations of what is ultimately a private business."

Conservation advocates have also expressed concern over the proposal, saying it presents environmental risks.

Concerns include wildlife deaths along the rail line — particularly grizzly bears, which have been hit and killed on the existing track — and the fragmentation of wildlife habitat in Alberta's already busy Bow Valley.

EXPANDING CALGARY'S CTRAIN TO AIRPORT

When it comes to Calgary's light rail transit system, Smith says she wants to see it further expanded.

"I know Calgary’s city council understands that developing Calgary’s public transit system will be critical to the socio-economic future of Calgary and its residents, and am very pleased to see the plans that council colleagues already have in place to expand the CTrain network," Smith said.

"As YYC continues to increase in size and economic importance, the number of domestic and international flights and passenger traffic to and through the airport will also continue to grow.

"In my view, a direct link between YYC and downtown via the CTrain network should be a transportation priority for both of our governments."

Smith says she has sent a letter to Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek saying she would like to "work together" to explore the option of expanding the LRT system to the Calgary International Airport.

While the premier emphasized the importance of both projects, she did not lay out any provincial funding for either one.

CALGARY MP WEIGHS IN

Calgary Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel Garner responded to Smith's statement by saying that Calgary should focus on constructing the Green Line LRT in north Calgary before focusing on a rail line to Banff.

"Nearly 10 years ago, the federal government provided $1.5 billion for a light rapid transit train line that would take nearly 50,000 vehicles off the road by allowing communities in north-central Calgary to connect with the rest of the city via light rapid transit.

"Today, the community has significantly expanded while the infrastructure is no longer on the table, in spite of this investment," Rempel Garner said.

She added that while she was pleased to see the premier's support for more public transit options in Calgary, north-central Calgary badly needs transit infrastructure.

She encouraged all levels of government to ensure that residents in that area are priorities for public transit before project that "might have a tourism bent."

Rempel Garner says north-central Calgary remains one of the most "underserved areas in Alberta" in regards to transit.  

With files from The Canadian Press

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