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Take the train out of Calgary? Group says it's possible

Students from the Netherlands detail a plan on taking freight trains out of Calgary's inner city

Paul van de Coevering and Juul Doggen of the NHTV Applied Sciences University in the Netherlands stand on the CN train tracks bordering Inglewood and Ramsay.

Helen Pike / Metro

Paul van de Coevering and Juul Doggen of the NHTV Applied Sciences University in the Netherlands stand on the CN train tracks bordering Inglewood and Ramsay.

Taking freight rail out of Calgary's city-centre – it's an idea that's picking up steam with communities who have long been divided by train tracks.

The City of Calgary's economy was built around the Canadian Pacific Railway that still transports tonnes of goods through the prairies, a Canadian connection that's integral to shipping goods across the country. But as Calgary has grown and changed, that train and it's 2 a.m. siren call has become a daily worry and disturbance for residents.

But according to a group of students from the NHTV Applied Sciences University in the Netherlands, it doesn't have to be that way. The students took a look at Inglewood and Ramsay and thought: what if we took the rail lines out of Calgary's inner-city, and they've crafted a detailed plan to make it a possibility.

The team of six students and a professor spent five months working full time crunching numbers, analyzing and consulting with experts to come up with a plan to transform the freight train track through the city into a large green belt, giving the space back to Calgarians. It's part of an annual event called "Safe and Smooth - What if we...?" put on in partnership with Safer Calgary and the school to bring urban innovation to Alberta.

It's an idea LJ Robertson, planning director for the Inglewood Community Association, thinks could build momentum, and she hopes citizens can put aside their disbelief, and just hear out the plan.

"We'd be foolish not to examine it a little further," Robertson said. "It's not just isolated to Inglewood, it's got implications for the city in its entirety."

The students presented their idea to the Inglewood community and had some enthusiastic responses.

"They really liked the fact that removing the train barrier would increase the social cohesion," said NHTV professor Paul van de Coevering. "That's a main benefit."

In total, it would take more than 35 years to pull off because of the need to keep to corridor open throughout the transition phase and test the new track. But with help from Dutch engineers students calculated the land could be valuable enough to help offset costs of moving the track.

"It's important because we think the train is a real barrier in the city, it stops people from connecting and going over the rail tracks," said student Juul Doggen. "There's also the example of what happened in Quebec, with the explosion ... if that happened here in the city, it would destroy downtown."

She said the idea was to replace the train with something more livable and connect communities in a safe way.

Robertson said although things have improved in the last three years between the community and rail operators, residents still suffer through noise, air pollution and the risk of a serious derailment – which the community has seen twice in the last two years.

And then there's the traffic. Calgarians in more than 50 locations city-wide are often caught waiting for a train to snail through an at-grade crossings.

Erin Joslin, of the Ramsay Community Association said the team's project looks fantastic on paper, but had concerns.

"If we were to bring back train travel, to make it viable to take high speed rail from Edmonton to Calgary, we want it to come right in our corridor," said Joslin.

According to a statement issued by CP spokesman Andy Cummings, there is room to work with communities who want to take rail out of their backyards – but it's not easy.

"Relocation of rail lines and yards is a complex and serious issue which would involve CP, local and national customers, regulators, local community organizations and all levels of government," said Cummings. "An extensive review would need to take place to determine the impact to customer service and the full cost to all stakeholders, which will be significant."

This project is set to be presented as part of the sixth annual Safe and Smooth, a program organizer Greg Hart said is meant to engage ideas people in North America aren't likely to kick start on their own.

"The idea is to expand the imagination, the repertoire of possibilities," Hart said.

The students for this concept, and other urban improvement ideas will be presenting their plans at the St. Louis Hotel on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

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