Canada saw an increase in rail accidents and rail fatalities in 2019, according to Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) statistics released on Tuesday.
A total of 1246 rail accidents were reported to the TSB last year, 77 more than 2018. The 2019 total is also well above the 10-year average of 1064 accidents per year. This is the third year in a row that rail accidents have increased, and the highest yearly total over the past 10 years.
Rail fatalities also increased from 57 in 2018 to 72 in 2019. Both of those numbers are below the 10-year average of 73. Fatalities at railway crossings increased from 19 in 2018 to 28 in 2019. Trespasser fatalities increased slightly from 34 in 2018 to 38 in 2019.
A Transport Canada spokesperson said the TSB data would be reviewed and incorporated into their inspection plans, but also defended Canada’s railway system as one of the safest in the world.
“Transport Canada has a robust oversight program to monitor railway companies for compliance with rules, regulations and standards through the conduct of approximately 33,000 railway safety inspections and audits every year,” reads an email from the spokesperson. “We inspect companies and road authorities to ensure they comply with the Railway Safety Act, and with the Act’s regulations, rules and engineering standards. This includes inspections of a railway’s operations, equipment, signals, infrastructure and safety management systems to determine whether they support safe railway operations.”
The main-track accident rate also increased, according to the TSB. In 2019, there were an average of 3.3 accidents per million main-track train miles. That’s up from 2.6 in 2018. The 10-year average is 2.3.
Freight trains accounted for roughly one-third of all rail accidents in 2019. Only three per cent of all accidents involved passenger trains. The majority of incidents (64 per cent) involved single cars, locomotives or other track units.
The number of serious injuries due to rail accidents decreased in 2019. There were 64 serious injuries last year, compared to 91 in 2018. However, both numbers are above the 10-year average.
The TSB issued rail safety advisories calling on Transport Canada to improve their train speed and track enhancement standards after a Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) train containing 104 tank cars filled with petroleum crude oil derailed just west of Guernsey, Sask.
Transport Canada responded by announcing new measures on April 3 that lowered the maximum speed trains can travel through metropolitan areas while carrying large quantities of crude oil or liquefied petroleum gas. Those measures also lowered the speed limit on any trains carrying those goods anywhere in the country during the winter months (Nov. 15 to March 15).
Additional ministerial orders directed railway companies to update their rules around track safety and the movement of dangerous goods.