Rail Safety – Oversight Program Description and Delivery - Fiscal Year 2018 to 2019

Table of contents


This document has been developed to standardize the presentation on the web of Oversight Program Description and Delivery for 2018 to 2019. This is part of the Oversight Transparency approach being implemented by Transport Canada in early 2019.

Executive summary

The goal of the Rail Safety Program is to make sure that rail companies operating in Canada comply with the Railway Safety Act, and any related regulations and standards. The Program meets this goal largely through inspections and audits. It also makes sure that companies follow the safety-related pieces of the International Bridges and Tunnels Act.

2018 to 2019 Departmental Results Report

In 2018 to 2019, the Rail Safety Program spent $20.2 million dollars on oversight activities. More details on the Program's expenses can be found in the Departmental Results Report.

Key areas for 2018 to 2019

As in previous years, the program has used a risk-based business planning process to identify risk areas for 2018 to 2019. Work continues on refining these areas as more data becomes available (like results from inspections, data collected from railways, data from the Transportation Safety Board).

The Rail Safety Program's areas of focus for 2018 to 2019 were:

  • track maintenance and inspection, including dealing with track vulnerability in the winter
  • Movements Exceeding Limits of Authority (MELA)
  • blocked crossings
  • securing rails to prevent uncontrolled movements
  • issues with railway equipment; and
  • natural hazards

1. Introduction

This document provides an overview of the Rail Safety Program's key activities for 2018 to 2019. In the past year, the program made progress on our goals related to inspections, audits, and quality control.

Oversight program

The oversight program focuses on three activities:

  • promoting compliance and safety
  • monitoring compliance and safety; and
  • enforcing compliance and managing threats to safety

The program carried out various activities, including:

  • inspections and follow-up visits
  • audits
  • enforcement actions
  • notices and orders
  • site visits after incidents in addition to meetings with the railways
  • responses to inquiries and complaints
  • data reviews and analysis

These oversight activities are both planned and reactive. The planned activities are identified through Rail Safety's risk-based business planning process.

2. Operating context

Industry overview


Industry size* (roughly)


41,711 kilometres of track under federal jurisdiction


52,060 freights
2,766 locomotives
Rail Safety oversees the Locomotive Emissions Regulations


4,500 operating crews


23,000 grade crossings (about 14,000 public and 9,000 private)


9,473 signals

Railway Bridges

6,800 railway bridges under federal jurisdiction
1,200 bridges built across federal rail lines


72 companies currently hold a Railway Operating Certificate

*Numbers are based on the best information available as of March 31, 2019.

Changes in the external operating environment

Increased rail traffic

Over the last 10 years, the volume of rail traffic saw an average annual growth rate of 1.2%. The volume of rail traffic increased by 6.5% in 2018 to 2019.

Changes in technology

New technologies like electronic track inspections, and VIA Rail's plan for high-frequency rail in the Quebec City-Toronto Corridor.

Changes in the internal operating environment

Ministerial orders

Ministerial order 19-01 on January 7, 2019, instructed rail companies to change the work/rest rules for railway operating employees. Another Ministerial order was issued on February 8, 2019, that affected emergency brakes on grades greater than 1.8%.

New legislation and Budget 2019

Bill C-49 requires companies to install voice and video recorders in locomotive cabs. In order to balance privacy and safety needs, the Bill also limits how both Transport Canada and railway companies can access the data. Bill C-49 received Royal Assent on May 23, 2018, and the regulations were pre-published in the Canada Gazette, Part 1 in May 2019.

Budget 2019 renewed resources that will allow us to deal with specific rail safety issues.

3. Risks and planning assumptions

Our risk identification and oversight planning is all based on data. We use both internal data and data from the Transportation Safety Board to identify trends and issues within the rail industry.

During the business planning process, we identify and prioritize risks using a matrix. We then decide on a plan of action that identifies the control actions and resources we need to manage each risk.

Following the risk analysis, Management reviews and approves this action plan. It's discussed at all levels of management, and is approved by the Program Business Committee. Each quarter, Senior Management reviews progress on the action plan. The process is on-going, and risks are always being evaluated as part of our day-to-day business.

The inspection plan is made up of three parts:

  • Component A Inspections: this inspection program uses a proactive approach to determine compliance and identifies trends or emerging issues that inform the Component B inspections.
  • Component B Inspections: these inspections address all levels of risk, although high-risk areas are the priority.
  • Component C Inspections: these inspections follow-up on both rail safety inspections, and incidents that have been reported to the Transportation Safety Board. These also include unplanned inspections.

4. Considerations

Although monthly numbers fluctuate, the long-term average number of incidents has been fairly stable since 2014.

Total Occurences

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Total Occurences









































Source: TSB Railway Occurrence Database System data set as provided to Transport Canada.

5. Initiatives to strengthen oversight

The Rail Safety Program is always looking for ways to improve both our program and how we deliver service to clients. Our Quality Management Team reviews and reports to management to on emerging issues or to make recommendations for improvements.

We're focused on continuous improvement and have a formal quality management system in place that considers any opportunity to streamline our procedures.

We take the recommendations from the Auditor General and Transport Canada's internal audit group very seriously, and make sure to follow-up on corrective actions. We're currently focused addressing some of the recommendations outlined in the Audit of Risk-Based Business Planning in Safety and Security Report. This includes reviewing our risk-based business planning methods, including how risks are identified to make sure that the same methods are used across the country.

Our work overseeing the Railway Safety Management Systems Regulations, 2015 is completed through comprehensive or targeted audits. Comprehensive audits provide an overall assessment how a railway company is creating and implementing a safety management system, and whether it meets the requirements of the Regulations. Targeted audits give us an in-depth look at a safety issue related to one or more of a railway company's safety management system processes.

We're committed to addressing the issue of fatigue. In January 2019, a Ministerial Order was issued that required railways to change their work/rest rules based on the principles of fatigue science. In the long term, we're committed to creating a regulatory framework for fatigue. Section 28 of the Safety Management System Regulations relates to applying the principles of fatigue science to scheduling.

Bill C-49 requires companies to install voice and video recorders in locomotive cabs. In order to balance privacy and safety needs, the Bill also limits how both Transport Canada and railway companies can access the data. Bill C-49 received Royal Assent on May 23, 2018 and the regulations were pre-published in the Canada Gazette, Part 1 in May 2019.

6. Oversight delivery in 2018 to 2019

The Rail Safety Program is responsible for overseeing the safety of railways that fall under the Railway Safety Act. This includes railway companies who hold a Certificate of Fitness from the Canadian Transportation Agency, as well as local railway companies which include:

  • provincially-regulated shortlines;
  • light rail transit; and
  • tourist trains that operate on federally-regulated tracks.

Equipment program

The Equipment Program oversees the safety of equipment, and decides whether railway companies are following the related regulations. Inspections can include locomotives, freight or passenger cars, air reservoirs, or train break inspections.

Operations program

The Operations Program checks that railways are operating trains, transfers and yard movements, including the dispatching of trains, in a safe way. They meet this goal by making sure that railways comply with the Canadian Rail Operating Rules, and other related regulations. Inspections can include crew performance, rail traffic controllers, physical yard or physical road inspections.

Occupational health and safety inspections

Occupational health and safety inspections are done to make sure that workplace conditions comply with the On Board Trains Occupational Health and Safety Regulations; Policy Committees, Work Place Committees and Health and Safety Representative Regulations, and Part II of the Canada Labour Code. These inspectionsare typically done at the same time as operation and locomotive inspections. Inspections include Occupational Health and Safety committees, workplaces, and on-equipment or off-equipment inspections.

Crossing and signal inspections

This inspection program oversees the safety of public or private grade crossings on federally-regulated rail lines. They meet this goal by inspecting sightlines, surfaces and signage at grade crossings.

The Signals and Communications Inspection Program makes sure that railways comply with related regulations and sound engineering principles that govern signals, communication systems, and their physical assets, like Automatic Warning Systems, Wayside Inspection Systems, and Wayside Signal Systems.

In addition to inspecting electrical and electronic control systems, inspectors also look at sightlines, and the condition of the crossing surface and signage for crossings with automated warning systems.

Track inspections

Railway safety inspectors conduct inspections in order to make sure that track conditions are safe, and to determine whether or not the railway companies comply with the regulations related to railway track. During the inspection, an inspector will walk the track and review documentation. They also use a Track Assessment Vehicle to check that regulations are being followed. Track assessment vehicles are large SUVs equipped with a system that helps inspectors check the track to make sure it meets the Track Safety Rules.

Railway and bridge inspections

A bridge inspection is made up of either a record review, a site visit, or both. This inspection looks at how well railways are managing the risk related to bridges, and make sure that they're fulfilling their responsibility to run a safe railway. Inspectors identify issues that either haven't already been identified, or have been incorrectly identified, and could affect the safety of railway operations, employees, the public, or the environment. Inspectors also look for issues with how the railway manages the risks related to their bridges.

Natural hazards

These inspections cover a variety of hazards that could physically block the track or derail a train. Natural hazards include landslides, rock falls, and subgrade erosion. This risk-based program oversees railway identification, monitoring, and risk-managing natural hazard locations. This is done by reviewing documentation and field inspections.

7. Tables, graphics and program-specific data

The link will be provided once the information has been updated.

8. Organizational contact information

We welcome your comments on this report. Please send your feedback to: railsafety@tc.gc.ca.

Annex A: Definitions

Required field



How we promote, monitor or enforce compliance with our safety and security requirements.

Regulatory authorizations

A regulatory authorization is given when a regulated party (like a railway company or vehicle manufacturer) applies for permission to do a regulated activity, or be exempt from it. We can give permission in different ways including a permit, licence or certification. We don't control the number of regulatory authorizations for each planning cycle.


A documented, formal examination of industry compliance with Canadian transportation safety and security rules, regulations and requirements. Authorized Transport Canada officials record the results of each inspection. For the purposes of this document, audits are a type of inspection.

An inspection includes pre-site, onsite, and post-site inspection and oversight activities. The inspection is finished when the inspector submits an approved inspection or oversight activities report.

An inspection does not include follow-up action, quality control checks or outreach activities.

Planned, risk-based inspections

All inspections that we initially commit to doing in a given planning cycle. The SO3 Management Board may authorize updates as needed.

These include inspections that are announced (and expected), and those that are unannounced. These do not include:

  • estimations of demand-driven activities, like regulatory authorizations
  • “reactive” or “opportunity” inspections that happen because of a change in oversight

Follow-up activities

These arise from findings of an initial inspection. Could include an on-site inspection, requests for more information, or enhanced monitoring. Follow-up activities don't include enforcement.

Other activities

Oversight activities that we did not initially commit to in a planning cycle, and are not a follow-up to an inspection or audit.


Ways that we can enforce requirements and compel compliance. For example:

  • letters of non-compliance
  • directions or orders
  • ticketing
  • notices of violation
  • administrative monetary penalties
  • prosecutions
  • suspensions or cancellations of certificates or authorizations

Education, outreach and awareness

How we educate the public, and encourage people and companies to follow the law (for example: industry conferences, air shows, training, web portal)

Quality control

How we make sure inspectors follow policies and procedures, and complete the required documentation. Applies to an entire oversight activity, from inspection, to follow-up, to resolving non-compliance.Supervisors and managers are responsible for quality control.

Each program must have:

  • a documented, nationally consistent way of doing quality control
  • a procedure or set of procedures to ensure inspections follow approved standard operating procedures or set of procedures to ensure inspections follow approved standard operating procedures