Rail industry in Canada - statistics & facts

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 2018 the railway network in Canada operated on over 63,000 kilometers of track and employed over 33,000 people. These figures have been trending down in recent years however, and even more so over the last few decades.

Despite the decrease in infrastructure, freight rail traffic rail in Canada has increased over the mid-term. Revenue ton-miles have grown by around 33 percent since 2004 to reach over 312 billion in 2018. Over the same time period intermodal traffic grew by over 64 percent, reaching just over 3.5 million units in 2018.

Two companies dominate the Canadian freight rail segment – Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway. In 2019, these companies reported 242 and 154 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 14.2 and 7.6 billion Canadian dollars respectively.

Passenger rail in Canada is much smaller than freight rail. In 2018, commuter and tourist rail operated on 5,080 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 2019, they reported total revenue from passenger services of around 411 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 4.1 billion dollars for all operators, but still far behind the revenue generated from freight rail services.

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