Industry Statistics


Canada has a large and well-developed railway system consisting of 49,422 kilometres (30,709 mi) total trackage, of which only 129 kilometres (80 mi) is electrified (almost exclusively part of urban rail transit networks).  
Canada uses 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) (standard gauge) track for the majority of its railway system.
The exceptions to the use of the standard gauge are short line railways, isolated from the main North American rail network used in resource industries such as mining or forestry. 

Canadian Railway Infrastructure
The rail transport industry is an important element of Canada's transportation system, which generates approximately $10 billion per year.  The overwhelming majority of revenues, or 95%, comes from rail freight operations and approximately 5% from commuter, intercity and tourist passenger rail services in major urban centres, corridors and regions.

The composition of the Canadian rail network

The Canadian Rail Network’s current holdings of 45,199 route kilometers of tracks are mainly used to transport freight and are owned as follows:

  • CN owns 49.1% (22,186 km);
  • CP owns 25.6% (11,574 km); and
  • Other railways own approximately 25.3% (11,439 km).

In the last 10 years (2007-2016), 2,600 km of track were officially abandoned and 845 km of track were transferred, mainly to new short line rail operators.  CN has acquired some tracks in takeovers of Class II carriers.
On a system-wide basis, the railways have invested about 20% of their revenues into infrastructure, averaging approximately $1.8 billion annually over the past 5 years.
There are two major publicly traded transcontinental freight railway systems operating in Canada: the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railways.
Nationwide passenger services are provided by the federal crown corporation Via Rail, with an estimated annual ridership of 80 million passengers.
Three Canadian cities have commuter train services: in the Montreal area by Réseau de transport métropolitain; in the Toronto area by GO Transit; and in the Vancouver area by West Coast Express.
These cities and several others are also served by light rail or metro systems.  Only one (Toronto) has an extensive streetcar (tram) system.
Smaller railways such as Ontario Northland Railway and Algoma Central Railway also provide passenger services to remote rural areas.
The Rocky Mountaineer and Royal Canadian Pacific provide luxury rail tours for viewing scenery in the Canadian Rockies as well as other mountainous areas of British Columbia and Alberta.

The Canadian Transportation Agency maintains a list, with status updates, of federal railway operators. This list is somewhat opaque, because certain owners set up operations in the names of holding companies.
This list includes:

  • Canadian National Railway
  • Canadian Pacific Railway
  • Hudson Bay Railway Co.
  • RailLink Canada
  • Tshiuetin Rail Transportation
  • Via Rail

Provincial and regional railways include:

  • Ontario Northland Railway
  • Toronto Terminals Railway Company Limited
  • Quebec North Shore & Labrador Railway

In addition, several U.S. operators connect to the Canadian network:

  • BNSF Railway 
  • CSX Transportation
  • Norfolk Southern Railway operates spur lines from Toronto to Buffalo and from Montreal to Albany
  • Union Pacific

The rail transportation sector moves heavy, bulk commodities and containerized traffic over long distances, whilst the passenger function includes commuter, intercity and tourist rail services.
Over 60 railways operate in Canada.  About half of them operated under federal jurisdiction in 2016, including three Canadian Class I and several U.S. railways. A detailed list, consisting of all certified railway companies by Transport Canada, are enclosed, as Annex A to this document.

Canadian National Railway (CN) and Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) are the two-dominant freight rail operators in Canada and are both Class I railways, meaning their revenues exceeded $250 million in the past two years.

Out of the total Canadian rail transport industry revenues, CN accounts for over 50% and CPR for approximately 35%.  CN and CP represent more than 95% of Canada's annual rail tonne-kilometres, more than 75% of the industry's tracks, and three-quarters of overall tonnage carried by the rail sector. For Canada, these two firms serve as important supply chain links for Canada's key trade corridors and gateways. 

CN crosses Canada from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and follows the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, linking customers in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. This has been made possible through various CN acquisitions—Illinois Central in 1999, Wisconsin Central in 2001, and Great Lakes Transportation in 2004—as well as a 2004 partnership agreement with BC Rail. 

CN generates annual freight revenues in Canada on the order of $5.5 billion and employs 22,000 people in Canada and out of the country.

CP operates 22,500 route kilometres in six provinces and 13 States, generating almost $4 billion in annual revenues in Canada; it has roughly 15,000 employees system-wide.

Various rail operations consist of 19 intermodal terminals operated by either CN or CP to run truck/rail and intermodal container services.  27 rail border crossings augment this with the U.S

The North American rail industry is highly integrated. Railway companies operate on integrated rail network tracks (standard gauge), maintained to similar standards.  Loaded rail cars are usually pulled by locomotives owned and operated by the track owner. Still, North American integration allows railways to interchange or hand off cars and locomotives that meet industry standards to other railways to complete a journey.

Short-line railways are fundamental components of the country's rail network, feeding and delivering traffic to and from mainline railways, originating more than 20% of all CN and CP's freight carload traffic, and moving billions of tonne-kilometres back and forth from Class I railways.

Passenger railways include intercity rail operators, urban rail transit, and heritage railways.

In 2009, intercity passenger rail traffic totalled 4.5 million passengers and approximately 1.4 billion passenger kilometres.

VIA Rail Canada—a Crown corporation established in 1977 that now operates close to 500 trains weekly serving more than 450 communities across 12,500 kilometres of the rail network, is Canada's dominant intercity rail passenger service operator, with annual passenger revenues of $260 to $280 million, which rates it as a Class I railway. Via Rail receives about $260 million in annual operating subsidies as well as substantial capital funding.

Remote communities benefit from subsidized intercity passenger rail services provided by carriers such as Tshiuetin Rail Transportation Inc. between Sept-Iles and Schefferville, while cross-border passenger rail service connections are made possible in Vancouver through Amtrak's Cascades service, in Niagara Falls through Amtrak's Empire service, and in Montreal through Amtrak's Adirondack service.

Several tourism rail services are offered throughout the country, including Rocky Mountaineer, Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions, Great Canadian Railtour Company Ltd., South Simcoe Railway, and Steam Train HCW.

TransLink provides commuter rail service in Metro Vancouver, GO Transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, and Agence métropolitaine de transport (Metropolitan Transportation Agency) in the Greater Montreal area.

Green Transportation – in 2013, Transport Canada and the Railway Association of Canada renewed a memorandum of understanding to encourage voluntary emission reductions from the Canadian rail sector during 2011-2015.  In 2015, the memorandum was extended until the end of 2016.  The latest annual report published under this memorandum shows the intensity of GHG emissions from rail freight operations in 2014 improved by 3.6% compared to 2013.  The efforts are ongoing, and manifested further in the recent procurement by the industry of “green” locomotives in large numbers to further reduce GHG emissions.

The table on the following page summarizes, in comparative terms, the Canadian railway status and situation vis-à-vis, year over year performances over ten years.

The Business of Keeping the Railway Network Functioning

It goes without saying that, the railway network could not exist without its vast array of supporting industries, suppliers and service providers.  In addition, to the railway companies operating in Canada, some of the key elements of the supporting organizations include, inter alia, the Canadian Association of Railway Suppliers (CARS) and member companies.

CARS represent over 140-member firms that supply products and services to Canadian railways and export markets. The members include a wide variety of large, medium and small businesses. The Association is an advocacy group with a mandate to promote a competitive frame work for research and development and the vitality and importance of the rail supply sector and railways in Canada.

For over 100 years, the Canadian railway manufacturing and supply industries have served customers around the globe, not only in the design and manufacture of rolling stock, maintenance of way equipment, signals and communications equipment, and related goods and services, but also with the expertise offered by Canadian consulting engineers, construction companies, and other highly skilled workers employed by the industry.

The railway industry continues to demonstrate tremendous growth domestically and internationally. The Canadian Class 1's, short line railways and transits will continue to require billions worth of rail products and services. Access to these opportunities and others internationally is crucial for railway suppliers across the country.

To date, the railway supply service sector has been dominated by engineering and consulting, and as evidenced, these areas will continue to grow in the future as railways remain focused on their core transportation activities. In today´s service-oriented economy, it's interesting to note that two-thirds of the Association’s member-rail supplier firms still provide products. This speaks to both the industry's historical and traditional nature and the capital-intensive nature of railroading. 

Railway and transit supply companies employ more than 60,000 Canadians.
The Association members have a significant economic footprint in the Canadian economy, with domestic sales of $4 billion per year. In addition, 80% of these companies also generate export sales totalling $5 billion, making the sector's total output more than $9 billion per year.  In the railway suppliers’ market milieu, there are many small, diversified suppliers and a small number of large buyers. This fact provides a positive impetuous to this market to reinforce the need to be innovative and efficient. Ultimately this is reflected in the strong reputation of the Association members for providing top-quality products and services.