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Rail transportation, 2015

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Released: 2017-03-31

Operating revenue for the Canadian railway industry edged up 0.6% from 2014 to $14.4 billion in 2015. Freight transportation revenue, which accounted for 91.2% of total revenue, was up 0.3% to $13.1 billion, while revenue from passenger operations increased 9.1% to $304.3 million.

In 2015, operating expenses fell 5.3% to $10.0 billion. Total diesel consumed was down 3.4% from 2.1 billion litres in 2014 to 2.0 billion litres, whereas the total diesel cost decreased 28.6%. As a result, the operating ratio—the industry's operating expenses as a proportion of operating revenue declined from 0.73 to 0.69.

The average number of employees declined 1.9% from 2014 to 32,051 in 2015. The average annual salary increased 2.2% to nearly $93,000 a year.

The Canadian railway industry is capital intensive, and its total assets amounted to $27.8 billion in 2015. In terms of rolling stock, the number of freight cars decreased 3.7%, whereas locomotives (+0.6%) and passenger cars (+1.9%) increased. The amount of track operated rose 1.1% from 2014 to just over 63,000 kilometres in 2015, the first increase since 2005.

Total freight car-kilometres fell 1.1% in 2015 due to a 4.7% decrease in empty freight car-kilometres, while loaded freight car-kilometres increased by 0.7%. Total passenger car-kilometres rose 24.5%, ending a recent downward trend.

Year-over-year increases in freight volume stall

In 2015, the volume of commodities transported by Canadian rail carriers decreased 1.4% to 304.9 million tonnes. This was the first year-over-year decrease since 2009. Higher shipments of iron ores and concentrates (up 5.7 million tonnes) and potash (up 1.0 million tonnes) were offset by lower shipments of coal (down 6.3 million tonnes), fuel oils and crude petroleum (down 3.9 million tonnes), and wheat (down 2.0 million tonnes). In 2015, over half (56.7%) of all rail shipments by weight originated in three provinces: British Columbia (61.3 million tonnes), Alberta (59.1 million tonnes) and Saskatchewan (52.4 million tonnes).

From 2014 to 2015, tonnage loaded in containers-on-flat-cars increased 2.3% to 36.4 million tonnes, while tonnage loaded in trailers-on-flat-cars decreased 28.1% to 329 113 tonnes. Shipments of coal and wheat decreased in 2015 but these products remained the top commodities by weight. The top six commodities shipped by Canadian railways accounted for 43.4% of the total tonnage in 2015.

Trends and patterns, 2010 to 2015

Increases in operating revenues and expenses

From 2010 to 2015, total operating revenue earned by Canadian railways increased 36.1%, while total operating expenses rose 15.9%. The total cost of diesel fuel increased 10.9% over this period and total diesel fuel consumed was up 5.3%.

Chart 1  Chart 1: Rail operating revenues and expenses, 2010 to 2015
Rail operating revenues and expenses, 2010 to 2015

In terms of output, the tonnage of revenue freight increased 5.7% from 2010 to 331.5 million tonnes in 2015. The number of revenue passengers declined 8.8% during this same period.

Less track, less rolling stock, fewer employees

From 2010 to 2015, the amount of track operated decreased 5.0% to just over 63,000 kilometres. During the same period, the number of freight cars decreased 21.8% while the number of locomotives rose 14.5% and passenger cars increased 2.3%.

The number of employees was largely unchanged from 2010 to 2015, edging up 0.1%. However, total compensation increased 21.6% and average compensation per hour rose 14.8% to $39.50 per hour.

Chart 2  Chart 2: Total freight volume transported by rail, 2010 to 2015
Total freight volume transported by rail, 2010 to 2015

Chart 3  Chart 3: Volume of rail freight by top commodities, 2010 to 2015
Volume of rail freight by top commodities, 2010 to 2015

Telling Canada's story in numbers; #ByTheNumbers

In celebration of the country's 150th birthday, Statistics Canada is presenting snapshots from our rich statistical history.

There is nothing more intertwined with Canadian history than the building of railways that linked the country with a ribbon of steel from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The link was completed on November 7, 1885, at Craigellachie in British Columbia, when the ceremonial last spike was driven into the Canadian Pacific Railway.

During the First World War, representatives from Canada's railways—including Canadian Pacific, Grand Trunk and Canadian National—gathered on October 23, 1917, to form a national volunteer board called the Canadian Railway Association for National Defence. The association's purpose was to expedite the flow of freight cars back from the United States to help the Canadian war effort. The renamed Canadian Railway War Board was eventually dissolved after the war but continued its work as the Railway Association of Canada, which is marking its 100th anniversary this year.

Today, Canada's mainline (Class 1) and regional (shortline) railways continue to be a major backbone of the Canadian economy. In 2015 for example, the Canadian railway industry moved almost 331.5 million tonnes of freight over more than 63,000 kilometres of track across the country.

  Note to readers

This release is based on two data sources—an annual survey and a commodity origin and destination statistics administrative file from Transport Canada. The former collects financial as well as operating and employment data from a census of Canadian railways that provide for-hire freight and passenger services.

The commodity origin and destination statistics file monitors movements of commodities carried by Canadian National Railway (CN), Canadian Pacific Railway (CP), carriers that interline with CN and CP, as well as a number of regional and short-haul carriers that do not interline with either CN or CP.

Data aggregations are available for Canada and select geographic regions.

Contact information

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; or Media Relations (613-951-4636;

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