Overview of the sample studies in the Canadian Railway Context

Note: The information on this page comes from a sample of 1129 cases of railway fatalities that occurred between 1997 and 2008 (Mishara & Bardon, 2017). For additional statistics and data on railway fatalities in Canada, here is a link to a 2017 report from Operation Lifesaver. Up-to-date statistics on railway fatalities in Canada are also reported on the Operation Lifesaver website. For statistical information on fatalities in other countries: in the United Kingdom, see trends in railway fatalities from 2001/2 to 2016/17 on the Statista website. For the EU region, see Eurostat website (data from Jan. 2018). For statistics of fatalities in Australia, read the Rail safety report published for 2016-2017.

Railway fatalities have been classified according to the coroner's assessment as accidents, suicides, undetermined, natural causes, or murder, to which we added "missing information" for cases we could not enter into any category due to a lack of data.


Railway fatalities are classified as suicides when:

1. There are clear indications of intent to die

2. When the person does not act in putting themselves out of harm’s way

3. When there is a history of mental health problems or previous suicidal behaviour

Either or all of these characteristics may be used to assess the likelihood of suicide.

The final sample, comprised 428 suicides which represent 37.9% of all railway fatalities over the 10 year span of the study, include large annual variations (from 29.6% in 1999 to 53.5% in 2007).

Fig. 1

number of suicides per year on the railway rights of way

percentage of all fatalities classified as suicides by year

Train suicides remain fairly rare yet traumatic events in Canada (an average of 43 per year). However, there seems to be an increase over the last 3 years of record (Fig 1). Suicides appear to be increasing, but we will have to wait for several more years before a trend can be confirmed. Between 2005 and 2007, rail suicides accounted for a mean of 1.55% of all suicides in Canada (click here to access comparison between countries ).


A fatality is classified as an accident when:

1.  There is clearly no intent made by the individual to die or

2.  When there is no indication of emotional turmoil or known risk factors

This project does not have a specific goal of developing recommendations and strategies to prevent railway accidents. However, our analysis of accidental deaths may be relevant to concerned stakeholders.

The final sample of fatal accidents consisted of 460 accidents, 40.7% of the total sample of 1129 fatalities. In Canada, there are more accidental deaths on the railway network than suicides. 

There are important annual variations in the numbers of fatal accidents on the Canadian railway network, ranging from 28 fatalities in 1999 to 78 in 2005 (Fig 1).

Number of accidental deaths on the railwy(per year)

percentage of all fatalities classified by year

There was a sharp increase in fatalities in 2005 which may be caused by a statistical variation as no specific explanation for such an increase has been suggested.


Our analyses indicate that 4 murders took place on railway property over 10 years in Canada. These cases have not been included in the analyses.

Natural Death

Natural death refers to individuals dying of natural causes on the railway property.

There was one case of a natural death in the sample, and it was not included in the analyses.


A fatality is classified as undetermined when there is not enough sufficient information to consider the fatality a suicide.

If a person has acted in a way that has indicated a self-destructive attitude such as engaging in excessive risks, using more substances than usual, or having had a dispute, ruling the case as an accident may neglect some ambiguous aspects of the person's history.

Throughout the 10 years analysed, there were 81 cases where the manner of death was classified as undetermined.

number of undetermined cases

Annual proportion of undetermined cases


Undetermined classifications are rare in our sample. They will not be specifically described in the context of this website but further information can be obtained by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

It is important to note that the proportion of undetermined classifications varies by province. Québec and Saskatchewan have the lowest number of undetermined cases. These differences between the provinces may be due to differences in the criteria used and practices of coroners and medical officers. Coroners are under provincial jurisdiction and their procedures and methods are locally determined.

proportion of undetermined cases by province


Missing Information

Due to record keeping issues, some cases appear in one data source but do not contain sufficient information to be able to determine what happened. We have classified those cases as "missing data".

All cases in which there is too much missing data to determine the exact cause of death come from the TSB and railway police files. There are 160 such cases in our data base. They are not included in the present analysis since there is not enough information present.