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Many of the products we use and the foods we eat have to be shipped—by road, rail, water or air—from where they are produced to where we buy them in our cities and stores. We rely on an extensive transportation network to get goods and people to their destinations.

In 2002, of the one billion tonnes of goods moved in Canada by the four main modes of transportation, 39% were carried by ship, 33% travelled by rail, 28% by truck, and less than 0.1% by air.

Trucking makes big gains

Over the last decade, the trucking industry has expanded in terms of jobs, number of shipments and economic contribution. In 2004, the industry contributed $14.7 billion to Canada’s gross domestic product, a 77% increase from 1994.

Chart: Goods moved in Canada, by mode of transportationTrucks moved 305 million tonnes of cargo in over 40 million total shipments in 2003. This was an increase of 76% in total tonnage from 1993 and a 44% rise in the number of shipments.

In 2004, trucking provided jobs for 168,000 people, 27% of all the employees in the transportation sector. From 1994 to 2004, the number of jobs in trucking rose 22%.

The trucking industry accounted for 53% of Canada’s exports to the United States and 79% of our imports from the United States in 2003. Border crossings are bottlenecks for trucks. A total of 8.7 million trucking shipments crossed the Canada–U.S. border in 2003, or 22% of total trucking shipments that year. Ontario is an especially hot spot for trucking: 38% of Canada’s total long-distance trucking shipments originated in Ontario.

Rail industry has shed jobs

Chart: Transportation industries' employment, 2004In 2004, rail transportation contributed $5.6 billion to the economy, the second largest contribution in the transportation industry and a 31% increase from 1997.

Freight earns the bulk of the rail industry’s operating revenue, accounting for 89% in 2004. In 2004, coal was the single largest commodity moved by rail, with 30.7 million tonnes shipped.

Commodity transportation by rail is especially important to the West. Shipments originating from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia totalled nearly 147 million tonnes in 2004, and accounted for over 54% of the total shipments on Canadian railways.

Passenger tickets represented 3% of the rail industry’s operating revenue in 2004. Though only a small part of rail traffic, passenger revenues have been on the rise in recent years, growing 48% from 1994 to 2004. Part of that large growth might have stemmed from air passengers switching to rail travel in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The peak for rail passenger revenues occurred in 2002, at $287 million.

From 1994 to 2004, the number of jobs in the rail industry fell 20% to 43,145. The industry cut its operating expenses to remain competitive with U.S. railroads and the trucking industry, so it deployed new technology that made some jobs obsolete and it decreased the kilometres of railway track in use by 1,038 km from 2000 to 2004.

Ports have a record year

Chart: Rail transportation employmentA record 443 million tonnes of cargo passed through Canada’s ports in 2003—up 26% from 1994. Domestic cargo rose to 136 million tonnes in 2003, a 41% increase from 1998. The rise was mainly due to greater shipments of crude petroleum, which just exceeded 40 million tonnes.

International cargo accounted for 307 million tonnes in 2003. Shipments to and from the United States accounted for most of this activity, comprising 40% of Canada’s total international marine traffic in 2003.

Outbound marine shipments, from Canada to the United States, have been on the rise in recent years, climbing from 59 million tonnes in 1998 to just over 81 million tonnes in 2003. In contrast, inbound marine shipments, from the United States to Canada, were relatively steady from 1998 to 2003, fluctuating between 42 and 46 million tonnes per year.

While the port of Vancouver remained Canada’s busiest by far, accounting for 15% of total shipments, several ports in Quebec were also thriving in 2003. The ports of Sept-Îles, Québec and Montréal all handled over 20 million tonnes each in 2003.

Aircraft traffic continues to decline

Canada’s air transport industry contributed $3.7 billion to the economy in 2004, a 10% decrease from 1997.

In 2004, just over 57,000 employees worked in the air transport industry, an increase of 25% from 1994. Employment has been declining in recent years, however, following a peak of 65,000 employees in 2000.

Airport activity slowed after 9/11, as many people became reluctant to fly. It was not until 2004 that airlines’passenger traffic showed recovery, as 87.5 million passengers took off and landed at Canadian airports. That volume was up 11.6% over 2003, a level of air travel last seen in 2000.

While the number of passengers has grown, the total number of flights has actually declined. In 1999, the 42 towered airports in Canada handled 5.3 million take-offs and landings. Five years later, in 2004, there were only 4.4 million take-offs and landings, a 17% decline.

The four airports with the highest number of flights in 2004 were:

  • Lester B. Pearson International Airport in Toronto, with just over 404,000 flights;
  • Vancouver International Airport, with nearly 315,000 flights;
  • Calgary International Airport, with just over 218,000 flights; and,
  • Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport in Montréal, with 205,000 flights.