Transportation in Canada 2021


Minister's message
Omar Alghabra
The Honourable Omar Alghabra

As Minister of Transport, I am pleased to present Transportation in Canada 2021, which provides Canadians with an overview of their transportation system at work.

In 2021, we entered the second year of the global COVID-19 pandemic, with Transport Canada and the Government of Canadians safe. Measures were announced requiring employees and passengers in the federally regulated air, marine, and rail transportation sectors to be vaccinated. Measures like this helped keep Canadian’s safe by delivering immediate protection from infection and severity of illness and increased broader community protection by encouraging vaccine uptake. Meanwhile, the Government continued offering relief to the Canadian air industry through programs such as the Airport Critical Infrastructure Program, the Airport Relief Fund, and the enhancement of the Airports Capital Assistance Program. This will help Canada’s air operators and airports to invest in the infrastructure and tools needed to re-invigorate the aviation industry and allow Canadians to feel safe and secure when they travel. 

To further keep Canadians safe, Transport Canada initially restricted certain aircraft arriving in Canada to four airports, later adding additional airports during the year. The department also continued to monitor and enforce requirements for pre-departure COVID-testing for travellers coming to Canada, as well as the wearing of masks at airports and onboard passenger aircraft. The land border between Canada and the United States remained closed for non-essential travel for much of the year—though Canada re-opened the border for most fully vaccinated Americans in August.

In the ongoing aftermath of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, which was shot down after taking off from Tehran, Iran, in January 2020, Transport Canada and other Government of Canada departments continue to pursue transparency, justice, and accountability for victims. In March 2022, Transport Canada co-hosted the second Safer Skies Forum, which brought together technical subject-matter experts from around the globe to discuss conflict zone risk mitigation as well as the efforts aimed at preventing such tragedies from happening again.

In our waters, the Government of Canada worked with industry and stakeholders to put in place strict safety and environmental measures for cruise ships in place before the start of the 2022 cruise season. Not only does this mean that these vessels return to our ports for the first time since the pandemic began, but their arrival will be cleaner and greener than before. Meanwhile, Transport Canada continues to make enhancements to industry efficiency that complement the Ports Modernization Review and advances efforts to ensure the St. Lawrence Seaway remains a competitive and sustainable transportation corridor. Also this year, the department launched public consultations on a proposed regulatory charge to finance a Vessel Remediation Fund, which would help prevent and address wrecked, abandoned, or hazardous vessels.

As for the Oceans Protection Planthe largest investment ever made to protect Canada’s coasts and waterways while growing the economy—Transport Canada remains an engaged partner with Indigenous Peoples, coastal communities, marine stakeholders, and provinces and territories. Under the Plan, the Enhanced Maritime Situational Awareness program provides Indigenous communities with near real-time information on maritime activity in local waters through a user-friendly web platform. The Plan is also helping to restore marine habitats and ecosystems in key strategic areas, and it has funded almost 350 projects to remove and dispose of abandoned boats across Canada— as well as making it illegal to abandon your boat in Canada’s waters. The department has also implemented new and revised measures to reduce vessels’ negative effects on the endangered Southern Resident killer whales and North Atlantic right whales. 

The freight rail sector continued to feel the impacts of COVID-19 in 2021, as well as those from environmental challenges, such as major flooding and wildfires in British Columbia. In response, a Ministerial Order on rail safety was issued, requiring additional precautionary measures to protect against wildfires and impacts from extreme weather conditions.  Transport Canada’s Rail Safety Improvement Program announced more than $21 million in 2021 to fund improvements in overall rail safety, increased safety at grade crossings and along rail lines, and increased public confidence in Canada’s rail transportation system. Additionally, Transport Canada organized two virtual meetings of the Commodity Supply Chain Table. A call for proposals was initiated in December under the National Trade Corridors Fund, and in January I held a National Supply Chain Summit to bring together business and industry leaders and associations to discuss challenges and potential solutions for a more efficient and resilient supply chain. To further advance this work, a national Supply Chain Task Force has been created. 

Over the course of the year, the majority of the regulatory requirements in the Passenger Rail Transportation Security Regulations came into force. In addition, the Intermodal Surface Security Oversight team continued to oversee the Transportation of Dangerous Goods by Rail Security Regulations, which came into force in 2019. Meanwhile, the Government of Canada also increased the fine amounts related to trespassing and to actions that obstruct the safe flow of trains.

Finally, in 2021, the Government of Canada continued to take action to advance zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) adoption across the country and instituted a mandatory target of 100% light duty vehicle ZEV sales by 2035. Canadians and businesses who have participated in the iZEV program are reducing up to 470,000 tonnes of emissions per year or 5.6 million tonnes over the lifetime of these vehicles. This is equivalent to powering over 1.3 million homes for one year. This is just the beginning of the future of ZEVs in Canada.

In summary, that’s a long list of projects and accomplishments, which in turn comes from the high standard Canadians hold us to. I trust that the remaining pages of this Annual Report will provide readers with even more detailed information on Canada’s transportation system as well as the continued efforts we are making to continue improving it. 


The Honourable Omar Alghabra, P.C., M.P.

Minister of Transport


The past two years brought unprecedented challenges to the transportation system including extreme climate events, global supply chain disruptions, and the enduring effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite these challenges, the system was resilient and was able to swiftly recover and adjust. By the end 2020, freight volume was back to 2019 levels in some regions of the country and for some modes.

The empty shipping container shortage has continued to be a challenge throughout 2021. This, coupled with high demand and other supply chain issues, has resulted in congestion on west coast ports across North America. Despite this, Canadian ports continue to handle high volumes and face lower levels of congestion than U.S. counterparts.

Strong demand for consumer goods through 2021 resulted in an increased container throughput at Canadian ports up 5.6% compared to 2020, and also 2.8% above pre pandemic levels. This import surge led to higher-than-average end-to-end transit times from Shanghai to Toronto via West Coast ports (34.5 days in 2021 vs. three-year average of 27.6 days).

Rail traffic remained 0.1% below 2020 levels, and 3.1% lower than pre-pandemic levels. Although 2021 brought strong growth to international merchandise trade, decreased movement of goods were driven by significant disruptions in the lower Mainland of B.C and a reduced demand for grain due to a smaller 2021-2022 crop-year. Bulk shipments excluding grain were up 4% compared to 2020.

In 2021, truck border crossings grew by 7.5% compared to 2020 but remained overall slightly below pre pandemic levels. Border crossings remained fluid in despite the border reopening to travelers in August 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic, particularly emerging variants, posed a great challenge to all modes of passenger transportation throughout 2021. Travel patterns have changed, and although restrictions have begun to ease, passenger travel recovery lags. This is particularly true for the air industry, with domestic air travel down 74% compared to 2019.

Over the past decade, transport-related greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 15% (2010 to 2019). While emissions in the marine sector have lowered, all other modes experienced increases. The road sector makes up 84% of these emissions, and despite improvements in fuel efficiency, emissions increased due to growths in both passenger and freight activity.

Despite overall increases in emissions, there have been some notable improvements in the sector. For instance, the emissions intensity of Canadian air carriers has decreased by 18% between 2008 and 2019. Moreover, the rail sector also witnessed decreases in its emissions intensity, with intercity passenger emissions down by 8.4%.

Canada continues to have one of the safest and most secure transportation systems in the world. Road casualty collisions decreased steadily over the last ten years, while the use of vehicles increased. In the air sector, accidents involving registered aircraft are down 18% from the previous ten-year average. The rail sector saw a 5% increase in the number of accidents in 2021 yet recorded 19.2% less deaths than the previous 10-year average.


Transportation is a major contributor to the economy and plays an important role in the wellness of Canadians. It also supports many industries, including the manufacturing and tourism sectors.

Transportation not only moves finished Canadian goods to domestic and international markets, it also moves the materials and goods that Canadian businesses need. Transportation also connects people within and between different communities, major urban centres, provinces, territories, and countries.

Canada’s vast and sparsely populated territory, and extreme weather conditions, can make it challenging to ensure the safe, secure and efficient movement of goods and passengers in Canada. In this context, Transport Canada plays a central role in monitoring and reporting on the state of the Canadian transportation system by sharing data and information with the public through this annual report.

The Canada Transportation Act of 2007, subsection 52, requires the Minister of Transport to table this report every year, in both the House of Commons and Senate. This report provides an overview of transportation in Canada based on the latest information for all modes of transportation (at the time of writing).

The report highlights the role that transportation plays in the economy and summarizes the national and regional transportation networks’ infrastructure. It describes major developments in the transportation sector during 2021 from an efficiency, safety and security, and environmental perspectives.

The report also assesses the Canadian transportation system’s performance in 2021 by looking at the system’s use and capacity. It ends by looking at upcoming trends in the transportation sector.

In addition to this report, a statistical addendum containing information on freight and passenger traffic for each mode, infrastructure and labour statistics, price and productivity indicators, freight trade data by mode and country, reported accidents, and greenhouse gas emissions has been produced and will be available online through the Canadian Centre on Transportation Data and its Transportation Data and Information Hub.