Couple say they've secured half of $600M needed to build Banff passenger train

This week Greyhound announced it's pulling its services out of Western Canada, but if a Banff couple's plans come through, you may have another option for travelling between Calgary and the mountains.

Jan Waterous says a private investor has agreed to pony up roughly $300 million

This photo of The Canadian train, equipped with new stainless steel cars, was taken at the Banff train station in 1955 by Nicholas Morant, a Banff resident who was legendary as a special photographer for Canadian Pacific. (Nicholas Morant/Town of Banff)

If you don't have the use of a car, chances are Greyhound's announcement this week might have rattled your travel plans. 

The bus company announced Monday it's pulling its services out of Western Canada. But if a Banff couple's plan comes through, you may have another option for travelling between Calgary and the mountains. 

Jan Waterous owns the Banff train station with her husband, and they're trying to bring back the passenger railway. She chatted with Calgary Eyeopener host David Gray about the project on Thursday. 

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Please forgive me if I've heard rumour of this for years now. Describe your idea for me. What are you hoping for?

A: We're on a quest to return passenger rail between Calgary and Banff, and as you alluded to, it's a multi-part, complicated process to do so.

And one of the things that we learned very early on is that it's really not feasible to have the passenger rail train run on the existing CP Rail track. Which is really why it discontinued 26 years ago, frankly, because CP Rail, they're about the on-time service, they're really not in the passenger rail business.

And so what what we saw is our chance — you know, Calgary and Banff's chance — to get this back, is [to] actually build a rail within the CP Rail corridor. So to take 25 feet of that [corridor] between Calgary and Banff and actually build our own rail that would be designated for commuter passenger rail.

Plans are underway to redevelop the historic rail lands in Banff, with the goal of making it a transportation once again. 0:39

Q: All right, let me just picture this for a minute so right now. What you've got is a train station. What you don't have is a train track or a train. It seems like a an uphill battle.

When we initially took this on, people alluded to 'it'd be easier to land a man on the sun.' But it's actually doable. And I'll tell you what we've done so far. CP Rail has been very encouraging to us, enough so that we have been out there trying to raise the funds to build the rail between Calgary and Banff. The cost of that, we know from an independent study, as well as our own research, is about $600 million.

And we have thus far secured funding for about half of that from an institutional investor.… About three weeks ago, we met with the federal infrastructure bank in Toronto and they have also told us that our project checks all the right boxes and that it, too, would be something that they are interested in for matching funding to get us to the $600-million mark. Things are 'choo chooing' along here.

Q: What will the price be per passenger once this is all done?

 A: The price point that we're looking at is a price point that our research has said has to be around the neighborhood of $15 per passenger to go from Calgary to Banff. And to us, it has to be a price point like that so that people will use it to go to work, to put your kids on it so they can go skiing. It has to be a price point that is very reachable for most Canadians.

Jan Waterous tells us about her ambitious plans to bring back a passenger train service to Banff. 7:48

Q: So you would need 40 million passengers just to pay off the rail?

A: The first challenge is the building of the rail. The second part is getting government support for the actual price of the ticket, and that is not unique to our project. Every single passenger rail in North America has some sort of state or provincial financial support for their ticket price.

So, that would be an Alberta government support and that's what we're going for next.

Q: Do you have a dream timeline on making this a reality?

The Olympics, if they're in Calgary. That would be a great goal for all of us. Because the hope and dream we have is that this train would actually go on the north-south track from the airport feed into Calgary and then go right into Banff.

We see that as something that would really be, you know, exciting for our city, and, as you can imagine, a very Canadianic, nation-building way of getting people around at that exciting time.



With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

About the Author

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary. Lucie most recently headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alberta. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson

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