Rail industry in Canada - Statistics & Facts

Published by E. Mazareanu, Jan 18, 2019
The rail industry in Canada consists predominantly of freight rail traffic, but also includes intercity passenger rail, commuter train services in three cities, as well as several urban light rail or metro systems. There are also a number tourist rail lines throughout the country. At the end of 2016 the railway network in Canada operated on over 62,000 kilometers of track and employed over 30,000 people. These figures have been trending down in recent years however, and even more so over the last few decades – falling by around 16 and 25 percent respectively since the year 2000.

Despite the decrease in infrastructure, freight rail traffic rail in Canada has increased over the mid-term. Revenue ton-miles have grown by around 25 percent since 2004 to reach almost 295 billion in 2017. Over the same time period intermodal traffic grew by just over 60 percent, reaching just under 3.5 million units in 2017. However, in the last five years the number of revenue-ton miles has stayed broadly flat on average, and has actually decreased from a high of 306 billion in 2014.

Two companies dominate the Canadian freight rail segment – Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway. In 2017, these companies reported 237 and 143 billion revenue ton-miles respectively (these figures also include international shipments, particularly in the United States). As with the overall industry, the companies’ revenue ton-miles have been have seen little to no change on average over the last five years. The total revenue in 2017 for these publicly-traded companies were 12.3 and 6.4 billion Canadian dollars respectively.

Passenger rail in Canada is much smaller than freight rail. In 2017, commuter and tourist rail operated on 4,850 kilometers of track, while intercity trains operated on around 12,000 kilometers of track. The primary operator in Canada’s intercity passenger rail segment is Via Rail, who are an independent state-owned corporation with a mandate to provide intercity services. In 2017 they reported total revenue from passenger services of around 366 million Canadian dollars – much lower than the freight rail companies. Revenue from commuter and light rail in urban areas at this time was much higher, at a combined 3.9 billion dollars for all operators, but still far behind the revenue generated from freight rail services.

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Rail industry in Canada

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