Light Rail Transit Association - UK Development Group 


January 2002 



The Canadian city of Calgary is showing strong leadership, not only by continually expanding its transit system but by also successfully carrying record passenger loads. Even more remarkable is its committed use of renewable electric power which plays a major part in the overall reduction of atmospheric pollution. Good quality public transport also plays a vital role in reducing the demand for more road space with an end product of more pedestrian friendly thoroughfares.


The vast expansion of Calgary's population (400 000 in 1971 to today's 860 000) has created many interesting challenges for transit. Gone for ever is the former image solely of a Canadian version of the Wild West, made famous by the annual stampede but now replaced by a well established Canadian financial centre, second only in many respects to Toronto. The inward migration of 50 people with their automobiles every day to live in the city presents a major problem, particularly for the efforts of traffic management to induce many more to forsake their cars in favour of transit. Fortunately love of the automobile is not quite as serious as in USA, partly because car ownership in Canada is more expensive. Another reason is that urban authorities in Canada recognise transit's role in controlling sprawl and maintaining the health of an urban core (2).


Opened in 1981 with a mere 12.5 km of route and 27 LRVs, it was an immediate success and, after ten years, had grown to 29.3 km operated by a fleet of 83 LRVs. During the next twenty years (up to 2001) major plans were prepared to introduce some important route extensions. The current fleet of cars, now totalling over 100, is shortly due to be increased still further. All this expansion had become necessary after the mid-week patronage had risen to 107 000 per day (3) with C-train (the name of the network) continually increasing patronage levels to new heights. This rapid increase has been put at 73% over a 5 year period (4) and now stands at about 187 700 per day. With C-train now effectively the backbone of the city's transport system, many incentives are currently being applied to attract more motorists, for instance free parking at Park+Ride stations along with free plug-in block heaters. To ensure adequate capacity for intending passengers, 3-car sets on a 5-minute headway are not unusual. All these measures have paid good dividends because it is now estimated that 42% of downtown workers are among C-train's regular patronage.


With such a successful and fast expanding system it was a brave move to become the first in North America to power its light rail transit system with wind-generated electricity. Developed in partnership with Vision Quest Wind Electric and Enmax, the scheme will provide 100% pollution-free operation for the entire C-train fleet. This is expected to contribute significantly to the city's goal of reducing corporate carbon dioxide emissions. C-train can now boast that it provides an environmentally friendly alternative to the private car with a single 3-car C-train carrying the passenger equivalent of 545 private vehicles (6).


A British incentive for further development of renewable energy came from a stark report from COMEAP (Committee On the Medical Effects of Air Pollution) (7) (8) which concluded that people exposed to exhaust particles over a long period are at greater risk of premature death, particularly from heart disease.

One prominent English city is now giving consideration to solar powered energy for its buses but appears to have struck the fundamental problem of how to transmit the power to the wheels (9). A consortium which includes Cambridge University is making a bid for EU funding to implement a solar-powered bus service in Cambridge by 2003 (10).

Transport for London is looking at the possibility of obtaining all the traction current for its four possible light rail schemes currently out for public consultation from renewables.

As for private motoring, Honda hopes to roll out shortly a hydrogen fuel cell car with other auto manufacturers close on its heels. One source has claimed that fuel cell energy generating capacity will increase many times during this decade, from 75MW in 2001 to 15 000Mw by 2011 (11).


Renewable energy can provide a substitute for oil and be the mainstay for our energy policy. When traditional strategists look ahead to 2020 or 2050 they still see Middle Eastern oil as the key issue in an international energy policy. But renewable energy can provide a substitute for oil. Just 3% of total wind resources could provide 30% of global energy needs and solar power also is virtually limitless. A SHELL prediction that by 2050 oil will be an outdated technology, should be a cause for concern to countries which have not developed alternatives because 2050 is not all that far away. Although France has already experimented with tidal power stations, Britain has so far done very little in this particular field. One source (13) suggested that tidal power around Britain has a potential to supply about one-fifth of our demand. For the record, the La Rance tidal power station near St. Malo in France contains 24 reversible turbines capable of producing 240 megawatts of electricity. All of these methods if harnessed could go some way towards meeting the EU's target of 22% of electricity from renewable sources by 2010.


It is not difficult to appreciate that Calgary, whilst having contributed towards its own transit problem, has also made a worldwide contribution by alerting the world and especially politicians to the danger of complacency. A Severn Barrage for instance could be needed long before it could be built. On questioning the Government on its "green" credentials (14) the MP for Morley and Rothwell commented that we cannot allow new renewable generators to stall at the first fence because they are not yet ready to compete with established generators. Without doubt, this fact sheet is raising a very thought provoking subject and although every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, no responsibility can be taken for the views expressed by the people quoted in the fact sheet.


  1. Van Wilkins in MASS TRANSIT - page 12 - Sep/Oct 2001.
  2. Van Wilkins in MASS TRANSIT - page 20 - Sep/Oct 2001.
  3. Robert H Irwin - General Manager Calgary Transit - DEVELOPING METROS 1991 - page 26.
  4. LIGHT RAIL NEWS - City of Calgary Press Release - 3rd July 2001.
  5. Ron Collins - Communications Coordinator at Calgary Transit METRO MAGAZINE - page 40 - Sep/Oct 2001.
  6. Ron Collins - PASSENGER TRANSPORT - 20th August 2001.
  7. COMEAP is part of the Department of Health.
  8. "Quantifying the benefits and costs of reducing particle emissions" - News Extra - LOCAL TRANSPORT TODAY - page 9 4th October 2001.
  9. "Cambridge solar powered bus plan is loopy project" Scott McIntosh - Correspondence in LOCAL TRANSPORT TODAY 1st November 2001.
  10. LOCAL TRANSPORT TODAY - 18th October 2001.
  11. Jim Duffy MASS TRANSIT page 10 - Sep/Oct 2001.
  12. Dan Plesch THE GUARDIAN 1st November 2001.
  13. Malcolm Brinkworth quoting The Central Electricity Board TOMORROWS WORLD ENERGY published by the BBC - page 102 - 1985.
  14. Tony Harney - Yorkshire Evening Post - 3rd November 2001.
To go to next Fact Sheet - click here
To return to Fact Sheets Index - click here
To return to LRTA Home page - click here