Research summary - Assessing the state of rail safety in Canada

  • As part of the 2017-18 Railway Safety Act Review

Prepared by: CPCS

This study was undertaken to assist the 2017-18 Railway Safety Act Review (RSA Review) in assessing the current state of railway safety in Canada. It is the product of desk research, analysis of third party data, and consultations with key organizations involved in rail safety.

The study specifically addresses three key areas of interest to the RSA Review, namely:

  1. whether railway safety has improved since the 2007 RSA Review;
  2. the causes and circumstances of the most meaningful and impactful occurrences, and where resources should be focused to improve rail safety; and
  3. how well current data collection/governance supports Transport Canada Rail Safety in its risk-based planning and oversight activities.
    1. Since the last RSA Review in 2007, there have been improvements in important accident categories including: main track derailments, crossing and trespasser accidents, and passenger trains involved in accidents. There has also been a decrease in the accident rate of the Class 1 and short line freight railways. A concern, however, is the marked increase in trespasser accidents since 2015.
    2. Main track derailments (especially those involving dangerous goods, crossing, or trespasser accidents) have the potential for the most serious consequences in terms of potential risk to the public, environmental damage, and financial loss. Crossing and trespasser accidents remain the cause of most railway accident fatalities and serious injuries.

      As there is little distinction in accident report data between the most benign and severe occurrences, analyses that substitute severity with number of fatalities, volumes of dangerous goods released, or cars derailed, do not necessarily capture the full human, economic or environmental consequences. Cases reviewed show that the most severe accidents affect persons, property, and the environment. Also, the full impact of a major occurrence may not be known until years after the event.

      Transportation Safety Board (TSB) data indicates a decline in track and equipment problems as causal factors, and a growth in proportion of accidents involving human “actions”. Since 2007, the most notable aspect in main track derailments is the decline in track and equipment failures by approximately two thirds (due to factors such as technological innovation), and the persistence of human actions as causal factors. Similarly, for non-main track derailments, human actions have remained persistent causal factors, while track and equipment failures have declined.

      Identified priority areas for focusing resources include: residential land use in proximity to railway operations; data collection and investigation of suicide-related fatalities; enabling short line investment in safety enhancing technology; better understanding, control, and reduction of human actions as contributors to occurrences; continued emphasis on policies driving the adoption and maturity of Safety Management Systems (SMS); and policies to address TSB Watchlist items.

    3. Numerous issues around current data collection/governance are identified. Most notably:
      • gaps in rail network and traffic data required to support risk-based planning;
      • ensuring the timeliness of information available;
      • TSB “RODS” data and TC, Rail Safety leading indicators (helpful in mitigating risk) cannot be used to predict future occurrences;
      • lack of information on suicides (a major factor in rail fatalities) in RODS data; and
      • scant information on accident severity.

In conclusion, there have been improvements in major accident categories, although trespassing accidents remain persistent. Additionally, with the decline in track and equipment problems as causal factors, accidents involving human “actions” have grown in proportion. Resource priorities should focus on: understanding human actions in occurrences; land use in proximity to railways; improved data on fatalities due to suicides; safety enhancing technologies; and policies driving the adoption and maturity of SMS.

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