The idea of connecting Calgary’s downtown and airport via a future passenger rail link has the full backing of the Calgary Airport Authority’s new chief executive.
Chris Dinsdale, who took over the top job at YYC in mid-August, said “the sooner the better,” when asked about the proposed rail link Wednesday, during his first public address.
“I think for the downtown, it’s critical,” he told a Calgary Chamber of Commerce luncheon crowd at the Fairmont Palliser. “As we go into a world where car ownership is going to be less . . . (with) sustainability issues, all these things, I think having a link where you can shuttle people back and forth quickly is needed.”
Dinsdale, who succeeded Bob Sartor, recently returned to Canada after nearly two decades working in Europe, the past two and a half years as the CEO for Budapest’s airport.
Addressing the Calgary business audience Wednesday, he raised how a rail link between downtown and the airport is common in most major European cities, and Calgary should be no different.
“A city of this size with an airport of this size, which is oversized for its connectivity, it’s common to have a train,” he said. “(These trains) are broadly used, so it will be very popular and very busy.
“So for me, that’s a given, and it should happen hopefully as soon as possible. We look forward to being a part of that.”
Proponent for passenger rail link to Banff ‘excited’
Adam Waterous, co-owner of Liricon Capital Inc., the financial backer and proponent for the proposed development of a 150-kilometre passenger rail link from Calgary to Banff, said Dinsdale’s support for the project is reassuring.
The Banff-based company’s blueprints include an initial link from the airport to downtown Calgary, which would then extend west to Banff, with stops in northwest Calgary, Cochrane, Morley and Canmore.
“The Calgary Airport Authority has been a great partner on this project over the last four or five years as we’ve worked with them to try and integrate the Calgary Airport to Banff Rail Project into their own long-range plans,” he said after Wednesday’s event.
“This is not new news, but it’s great to see a new CEO, who is coming from Europe, where trains are integrated into the airport and linked downtown (all the time). It’s always great when he says, ‘The faster the better.’ So we’re just excited about it.”
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Dinsdale’s address came two months after the Alberta government directed $3 million toward an airport-rail connector study. In July, the province stated the study, to conclude next August, would assess passenger rail links beyond the city limits to connect Calgary with Banff by hydrogen-powered trains.
Waterous said that study will analyze the optimal way of extending Calgary Transit’s northeast LRT line to the airport — a distance of approximately four kilometres — as well as the best way to develop an express rail line west from the airport through the Deerfoot Valley and into Calgary’s downtown.
“Essentially what we’ve proposed is that the Calgary Airport-Banff rail, which was originally going to terminate at the airport, continue past the airport and actually connect another four kilometres to the Blue Line,” he said.
The long-term objective would be to add a passenger rail connection from Calgary to Edmonton, Waterous said.
CEO addresses Calgary airport’s passenger count, security measures
Dinsdale’s address covered several topics, including replacing the aging west runway by 2025 and the airport’s rebounding ridership.
More than 14 million passengers visited YYC in 2022, more than double 2021’s 6.3 million — and just 3.5 million travellers short of 2019’s record 18 million.
Early projections this year — based on first-quarter data — put the airport’s expected passenger count at more than 17 million.
Dinsdale also answered questions about the future of airports in general, adding he expects current practices such as checking in before a flight to be unnecessary within 10 to 15 years.
“Innovation is going to drive airports,” he said, citing advanced security screening at airports in Israel and biometrics being used at the Vancouver International Airport as examples of how airports may operate in the future.
“It’s not far off where you’ll simply walk through the front door and if you’re not doing anything wrong, you won’t get stopped and you’ll just get on your plane.
“The technology is not right just yet, but it’s coming. It’s absolutely coming.”