09/28/2012 04:37 EDT | Updated 11/28/2012 05:12 EST

Edmonton-Calgary High-Speed Train: Alberta Transportation Minister Says There's Business Interest


CALGARY - A high-speed train between Alberta's two largest cities has come up many times and it resurfaced again Friday in a speech by Alberta Transportation Minister Ric McIver.

"I've had several people come to my office saying we'll build it. If you have the land, we will build it," the former Calgary alderman told a Chamber of Commerce audience.

"Having the land is kind of a big deal — you can't go ahead without that — but if we decide to build it, if we get the right-of-way in place, there are people who are saying they can do it."

Interest in a high-speed link between Edmonton and Calgary dates back to the 1970s.

In the 1980s and again in 1995 the Alberta government investigated the project's feasibility based on a dedicated right-of-way and electrified technology.

Both reviews concluded a high-speed link was premature due to its high cost and a concern that the ridership just wouldn't be there.

The Alberta government asked the Calgary-based Van Horne Institute to review the matter again eight years ago.

The transportation-focused research institute concluded that high-speed rail would provide billions of dollars in benefits to the Calgary-Edmonton corridor and Alberta as a whole. The study said there was sufficient demand to warrant going ahead with the line, which would reduce travel time between the two cities by two hours.

It also found that ridership and revenues would be sufficient to cover operating expenses and repay most of the costs within 30 years.

But the project has remained on the backburner.

"There is no timeline and I wouldn't want to give anybody any expectation that there is. I can tell you there's some research into it but there is no timeline," said McIver.

He said the interest has come from people with "substantial business interests" but declined to identify them.

There are no plans to proceed with anything for the time being, even if it were suggested as a public-private partnership, McIver said.

"We're not in a position to jump at it or away from it. You can't really promise somebody they can build a piece of infrastructure until there's a right-of-way for it — and that's another whole discussion that would have to go ahead," he said.

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