Imagine that you’ve got tickets to see the Oilers play the Flames at the Saddledome (or whatever arena the Flames will call home years from now). The game starts at 8 p.m. You and your friends leave Edmonton after 6, and get to Calgary with time to spare.
That could become reality within a decade, as TransPod, a Canadian company that’s betting big on high-speed train technology, targets Calgary and Edmonton for its first operational route. The company just received $550 million USD in infrastructure funding from Broughton Capital Group, with China-East Resources Import & Export Co (CERIECO) guaranteeing a portion.
TransPod CEO Sebastien Gendron says that the Calgary-Edmonton project is expected to cost $18 billion USD, and the investors who have come on board have “reserved their seats” to invest more in the future.
What is the TransPod system? It’s an enclosed tube that can carry pods in excess of 600 km/h. To put that in perspective, the fastest speed a car has ever hit in a Formula 1 race is 372 km/h. The Formula Rossa, the world’s fastest roller coaster, hits a top speed of 240 km/h. A Calgary-Edmonton run will take 45 minutes. With no windows, and a general easing on acceleration and deceleration, it is designed to make passengers oblivious to how hella fast they are going. There will be no windows. After all, no one wants to puke up lunch on the way to that Battle of Alberta game.
“We don’t want this to be something for a jet fighter pilot, who needs three weeks of training before being able to board,” says Gendron. But he says the company is open to having virtual reality equipment on board, which will allow those who wish to “feel” how fast they are going to do so. “We won’t let people see outside. Because, trust me, if they did, people would feel sick.”
Why Calgary-Edmonton? Gendron says it’s the second busiest inter-city commuter corridor in Canada — after Montreal-Toronto, of course. But Edmonton-Calgary is easier to make the priority project; with Montreal and Toronto, builders have to deal with pushing the system through some densely populated areas, they’d have to deal with two provincial governments and their bureaucracies, and the distance is greater than Calgary-Edmonton.
“In Alberta, it’s shorter, it’s straight, it’s flat and it’s only one province,” says Gendron. “So it makes it the ideal candidate for what we are trying to do.”
As well, there is no existing railway service between Calgary and Edmonton as there is in the Ontario-Quebec corridor. So, having absolutely crap rail connections is working in Alberta’s favour. “We have a blank sheet of paper in front of us,” says Gendron.
TransPod has moral support from the provincial government, and is looking for help with securing the rights of way for the raised TransPod tube. It’s waiting on modifications to the Railway Act to recognize TransPod as a railway company, so it can then negotiate with landowners.
“We want to acquire the land the same way oil and gas companies do when it comes to pipelines, and we want to have decent deals with landowners. It’s likely we’ll have an elevated system, so we won’t cut the land in two pieces. We want any farmers to continue operating on their land the way they are doing it now. Instead of buying the land, we could have a lease agreement where we pay them back in electricity for the next 50 years.”
Gendron envisions that, with the province’s help, the line, which could be operational as early as 2030, will have a Red Deer stop — a must, for him — and that prices could be capped, to make sure it’s not a first-class-travellers only experience (like the Concorde, which did not end up revolutionizing air travel).
“We don’t want this to be a transportation system for rich people.”
Gendron says TransPod’s goal is to “link the whole North American continent.” He allows he likely won’t be alive when that goal is achieved.
And, he says the tech is there to increase the speed of the system, by a lot. He says that, in years to come, an Edmonton-Toronto run could take a little less than… an hour. Imagine that — going to Bay Street for a business meeting, but being home in time to take the kids to their minor hockey game. Or bragging to your buddies in Edmonton that you bought a Toronto Blue Jays ticket pack for the season.
“But, we don’t want to make false promises,” Gendron warns. “We want to make steady process. The first step is Calgary-Edmonton, airport to airport. We do the testing, and then we take the elephant bite by bite.”
This article appears in the June 2022 issue of Edify