Safety in Numbers: Evaluating Canadian Rail Safety Data

10 Pages Posted: 4 Apr 2014

See all articles by Jennifer Winter

Jennifer Winter

University of Calgary - The School of Public Policy; University of Calgary - Deptartment of Economics

Date Written: April 2, 2014


After the horrific and deadly train explosion at Lac-Mégantic, Que. in the summer of 2013, there are serious questions being raised publicly about the safety of Canada’s rail-transport system. Unfortunately, Canada’s public rail-safety data are currently in no shape to provide the answers to those questions.

When Canadians ask, as many have in recent months, whether the rail-transport system is “safe,” they surely want to know whether the accident record is low — compared to other countries and to other forms of transport — and whether it has been improving or getting worse over time. Yet, the statistics that might provide the answers are worryingly inaccessible, sometimes conflicting, and in certain cases not available at all.

The inability to publicly monitor airline safety statistics would be considered unacceptable. Yet trains transporting volatile goods across Canada arguably expose entire communities, as in Lac-Mégantic, to potentially catastrophic dangers. How is it, then, that the Transportation Safety Board, Transport Canada and Statistics Canada do not even publicly report something as basic as the number of train trips made every year in Canada? Nor do their statistics distinguish between incidents and accidents involving passenger trains and those involving freight trains. And how is it that the total number of accidents in some years is reported differently by these various monitoring organizations?

If Canadians are, as it appears, destined to see increasing volumes of goods, specifically dangerous goods, transported by rail, it is that much more important that the federal government significantly improve the reporting of rail-safety data. It is not only vital that our railroads are safe; it is just as vital for the public to have information showing exactly how safe they are.

Keywords: Canada rail, rail safety, public rail safety, rail-transport, train accidents

JEL Classification: L90, L91, L92, R40, R48

Suggested Citation

Winter, Jennifer, Safety in Numbers: Evaluating Canadian Rail Safety Data (April 2, 2014). SPP Research Paper No. 6-2, Available at SSRN: or

Jennifer Winter (Contact Author)

University of Calgary - The School of Public Policy ( email )

Calgary, Alberta


University of Calgary - Deptartment of Economics ( email )

2500 University Drive, NW
Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4

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