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Calgary airport transit plan set for public input

The City has charted the course for Calgary airport transit service – though it won’t be delivering passengers to YYC any time soon.

Slides showing the proposed two-part Calgary airport transit route connecting both the Green and Blue transit lines and the Calgary International Airport, outlines the proposed track alignment, station locations and the preferred vehicles. Initial cost estimates for the entire project range between $900 million and $1.8 billion. This information is going to be out for public consultation beginning June 24.

Alex Saba, Senior Transportation Engineer with the City of Calgary, said the information made available to the public will show the city’s recommendations for the project, based on feedback from previous public engagement.

“We didn’t meet any concerns in phase one of the engagement. I felt like there was a lot of positive thrust behind this project,” Saba said.

Ward 5 Coun. George Chahal said while any final decision on this project is a long time away, it’s great to see it taking a step ahead as it’s a common question from his constituents, and important for the continued growth of the northeast as a top inland port for regional distribution.

“I’m happy to see that we’ve made some progress and, and moving this forward and engaging the community and providing this information,” he told LiveWire Calgary.

“And as we grow and build our ridership, it’s important to have a plan for a direct connection to the airport.”

Two areas of citizen feedback the city took into consideration in building this plan were providing optimal trip times and using proven technology. The first to make sure travel time was comparable to using other means to get to the airport. The other was ensuring proven technology was deployed, especially with respect to how it operated in Calgary’s unpredictable climate.

Transit technology

The city looked at three potential types of technology: the current LRT-type system, an Automated People Mover (APM) – similar to that used in Vancouver’s Canada Line, and Bus Rapid Transit.

The APM graded out best for a handful of reasons. First, it’s automated. While that presents obvious operating cost savings without the need for drivers, Saba explained that it also allowed for quick turnaround at the ‘dead-end stops’ at the end of each line.

Dead end stops are where the line ends and the train must go back in the other direction. Due to the design of proposed airport transit, there would be dead ends at 96 Avenue NE, the airport and 88 Avenue NE.

“Mostly at YYC we’ll see where there will be two pockets where trains will come in and park and board… for an LRT that’s called dwell time. And that time is normally six minutes for the driver to turn around from one end of the train to the other,” Saba said.

With the APM, that’s reduced to two minutes – mainly to accommodate the boarding. That frees up a pocket for the next train to enter the YYC station. While it will happen most often at the airport, Saba said it also provides for quicker turnaround at the end of line stations.

Other reasons the APM is being recommended is that space for passengers, the doors (for luggage) provide better customer experience, according to the city’s presentation.

Saba did say they anticipate technology changing – and improving – prior to the line being put into the construction queue. He believe it could have an end benefit on the overall capital cost of the project.

Airport transit route staging

First, the project is split into two stages: Blue Line to YYC (Stage 1) and Green Line to YYC (Stage 2).

The Blue Line to YYC stage goes from 88 Avenue NE to the airport. It exits the station on an elevated track for the first few hundred metres and then goes at grade for the entire stretch, through the airport tunnel and then elevated into the airport.

The Green Line to YYC goes from 96 Avenue NE, leaving in a tunnelled portion, then to trench, where it reaches a station just to the northeast of the Aurora Business Park. It continues in a trench from there until it goes at-grade and then to elevated near the airport where it connects with the other line.

It’s a two-stage project for a couple of reasons, with the first stage being the connection to the Blue Line. The initial reason is the 88 Avenue NE station will be completed on the Blue Line before the 96 Avenue NE station will be done on the Green Line.

Extending the Blue Line north to 88 Avenue is only around 800 metres, Saba said, versus the several kilometre extension that would need to be added to the Green Line.

Stage 1 is also cheaper to build and already runs in an approved right of way.

When asked about the difference in trip time from downtown, Saba said the Blue Line would only be a couple of minutes longer.

Stage 2 route alignment

Four different options for the stage 2 route were examined. Two (Option 2 and Option 3) looked nearly identical, aside from a minor station change, which provided less overlap in the catchment areas.


Saba also said that the location with the Harvest Hills Link NE connection is a better spot for feeder buses to bring people to the station and provide for a better drop off and pick up location for riders.

Option 1 forced a slow enter and exit speed to the station, but also made it necessary to build a more expensive station at 96 Avenue NE. Option 4 also had challenges, both with station construction costs and future tie in to regional railway.

Calgary airport transit station design

The city looked at two station design type for this project: A parallel station build and a T-in Station.

Saba said there are two big reasons – cost and trip time – for the city recommending the T-in design over the parallel. The other he said is, if you build the parallel station, the tie in for the two stations needs to be timed together – so completion of this stage of the Calgary airport transit line would be contingent on construction being completed at the 96 Avenue NE station on the Green Line.

While the parallel station does provide easier wayfinding between the platforms for people moving between the Green Line and the airport line, the cost for the deep tunneling made the option less appealing.

Timeline, funding, construction

Right now, there’s no timeline and no dedicated funding for the Airport Transit project. In the city’s presentation, they address why this study is being done today.

They provide four reasons:

  • Coordination with Blue Line extension
  • Align with updated Green Line planning
  • It’s a part of the Aurora Business Park updated plan
  • Part of the Airport Authority Master Plan

When they do get to the staged construction phase, Saba said you wouldn’t likely see Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) run as a precursor to the APM line, similar to how it’s been deployed in southeast Calgary.

“We would have to run multiple buses, almost daisy chained, at two-minute headways,” Saba said, based on potential ridership projections. Medium term ridership is projected to be between 17,000 and 29,000 daily, the city’s information shows.

As stated earlier, the budget for the full project comes in at between $900 million and $1.8 billion. Broken down, Stage 1 is projected to cost between $400 million and $800 million. Stage 2 is pegged at between $500 million and $1 billion.

The variance, Saba said, is because of unforeseen costs that may come up as a result of the collateral infrastructure along the route, such as the Metis Trail and 36 Street NE crossings.

Chahal said the area’s immediate priority would be the extension of the Blue Line.

“We have the fastest growing communities in the city of Calgary; we have tremendous use of public transit up in ward five,” Chahal said.

“And I think that expansion, right now, for today and for the for the near future, is the type of investment we should be looking at, in addition to what’s currently already approved and planned with phase one of the Green Line.”

Upcoming public engagement

Saba said next week’s public engagement sessions will be used to fine tune these plans and address any major community concerns. He said they took the feedback from prior engagement and applied it here, but he said he still expects people to offer up some thoughts.

“We might get some questions about why we chose one option over the other,” Saba said.

“Citizens might ask questions, ‘why can’t this station be in another location?’ or ‘why is this alignment in front of my parcel?’”

From what he’s seen, Coun. Chahal said the city’s put a lot of effort into the recommendations, addressing many of his questions around cost and alignment and he’s intrigued to see the project roll ahead.

“So, I applaud the efforts of the folks involved, who really do a good job in exploring all options to ensure that we get the best return on our investment moving forward,” Chahal said.

For those people unable to get to the open houses, an online portal will be open beginning June 24 at the project engagement page.