Railway accidents in Canada

There is an annual average of 49 accidental deaths on the Canadian railway network, with a peak in 2005 (when 35 accidents occurred in Ontario). Accidents represent 46% of all railway fatalities.

Where and when do accidents occur?


Accidents are more frequent when weather conditions are more difficult. Accidents also appear to be most frequent during mid to end of the afternoon and on weekends


  • This weekend peak is in part explained by higher levels of alcohol presence in the blood of victims – people drink more on weekends.
  • Accidents are more frequent in Alberta, Ontario, and Québec
  • They occur more often at crossings and are more often seen in rural areas than suicides
  • Accidents victims are more often familiar with the tracks, because they live nearby


Railway accident prevention should target more specifically people who may be impaired (younger and older people). Since weather conditions can affect the number of accidents, signage could be adapted to poor weather (fog, snow, ice).

Accidents vary in time, as described bellow:

Annual variations

The numbers of railway accidents varies from year to year. For example, there was a larger number of accidents in Ontario in 2005. This increase has been noted across all areas of transportation in Canada and is very difficult to explain.

Annual Number of accidents per year by province

Seasonal variations

Weather conditions play a small part in railway accidental deaths. A majority of accidents took place on a clear day (61.1%). However, snow and rain were present in respectively 15% and 7.8% of accidents. Accidents occur more often when the temperature is between -9 Celcius and +5 celcius. This difference is fairly large and displays what one may expect to find: accidents are more likely to occur during poorer weather conditions (colder temperature and/or difficult atmospheric conditions).

percentage of accidents by temperature

Monthly rates show that a larger number of accidents occur during the fall (September: 13.8%, October: 11.2%).

Hours of the day

Accidental deaths tend to occur more frequently during the day, especially mid-afternoon.

Number of accidents per hour during the timeslots

Days of the week

The proportion of accidents increases steadily during the week, with the highest number on Sundays (21.0%).

Percentage of all accidental deaths for each day of the week

This higher risk of accidents during the weekends may be explained by increased levels of substance use. Indeed, we observe an increase in the presence of substances in the blood of accident victims on weekends.

Who dies in railway accidents?


Railway accident victims are primarily male, are in a relationship, and are employed at the time of death. A significant proportion had chronic health problems, mental health, or substance abuse problems.

Railway accident prevention campaigns could use this information to target at risk groups or to increase awareness of health related impairment.

People who died by accident on the railway network in Canada display the following characteristics:


Accident victims had a mean age of 39.74 years old, with no significant difference between male and female victims.

Percentage of total accidents by age groups

Accidents represent a larger proportion of all fatalities for the very young (100%) and older (59.8%) individuals. For young adults, accidents consist of between 41.7 and 44.5% of fatalities. This means that age plays an important role in the incidence of railway accidental deaths.


Although there are far more males involved in fatal accidents (N=341) than female (N=96), amounting to a 4:1 ratio, accidental deaths represent 46% of fatalities for both genders. This means that although females are less often involved in railway fatalities, the proportion of accidents and suicides is the same as for males.

 Number of railway accidental deaths over 10 years

Employment at the time of death

We found a greater number of individuals in the sample of people who died by accident on the tracks were unemployed compared to the general population (12.8% versus 7.4% respectively).

Employment status at time of accident

Marital status

  • 75.9% of the accident victims were in a relationship at the time of death.
  • Single men are more frequent in our sample (23.7%) compared to single women (5.3%)

Number of victims

Most accidents involve the death of a single person (87.8%), although more may be injured. However, 10.2% involved 2 people and 1.9% more than 2 people


Life events

The behaviour of the person before the impact


Victims of railway accidents were either on the tracks with a car (43.8%) or on foot (56.2%), with large variations by province. Their behaviour prior to impact shows that they tend to misunderstand the danger associated with trains. Regular signage and information campaigns would help increase this awareness in more densely populated areas.

Alcohol and other drugs play an important part in railway accidents. Therefore more road surveillance and stronger limits to authorised alcohol blood content could decrease the number of accidents.

Since many accident victims are impaired due to alcohol consumption or may have trouble getting out of the way or taking heed to an arriving train due to their age (more victims are children and elders), it is possible that more dramatic and intense signals of the approach of an oncoming train at crossings may be warranted.

Beside substance use  (present in 72.5% of accident victims) there is very little information in the files about the life events and circumstances surrounding accidental deaths. However, although this information is not frequently available, and therefore greatly underestimated, we found that 19.4% of accident victims had a chronic health problem, 13.7% had a severe mental health problem and 18% a substance abuse problem.

Information regarding the behaviour of accident victims around the time of death was available from coroner files.



  • 56.2% of accident victims were pedestrians hit by a train and 43.8% of accidents involved a vehicle.
  • Accidents involving a vehicle are more common in New Brunswick (90.0% of accidents) and Saskatchewan (74.3% of accidents) and the rarest in British Columbia (17.8% of accidents).
  • Accidents involving a vehicle are more common with middle aged adults (57.1%) and older adults (57.6%).


Proportions of accidents involving a vehicle

Substance Use

Substance use is a major issue in train accidents (72.5% had substances in their blood at the time of death). The presence of a substance (alcohol above the legal limit or illegal substances in blood at autopsy) may explain in part the role of impulsivity and lack of judgement associated with intoxication or the effects of illegal drugs.

Behaviour around and on the tracks

In a prevention perspective, it is important to identify behavioural patterns of accident victims. Although information on the exact nature of the victim’s behaviour was not always properly detailed, there are some indications of recurrent behaviours (placed in order from the most cited to the least):


  • Driving across the tracks
  • Walking or running across the tracks
  • Walking on the tracks facing away from the train
  • Standing, sitting or lying on the tracks
  • Did not react when the train whistled
  • Went around a barrier
  • Walked along the track


Proximity to place of residence

People usually lived in the town where the incident took place (53.8%). However, about 21.3% lived more than 40km away. This could indicate that great familiarity with the tracks can prove dangerous as well as great lack of familiarity.

Distance between place of residence and accident site


  • Young children were usually living in the same town and adolescent within 1km of the place of death.
  • Accidents victims were known to be familiar with the tracks since it was indicated in 14,7% of the cases that they came there often.


Location on the railway network

Accidents occur more often at crossings (55.4%) than at other locations. It is important to note that yard accidents represent only 3.6% of accidental deaths. However, they tend to be more traumatic for railway employees than open track accidents because they more often involve co-workers.

Surprisingly, stations are rarely a place of accidental deaths, although they are the places with the highest interaction between trains and pedestrians.

 Railway accidents by location

Accidents occur more often in urban areas (66.3%) than in rural areas (33.7%), as do railway fatalities in general (72.2%). However, overall accidents are more common in rural areas (33.7%) than suicides (14.9%). Accident prevention should therefore specifically address these rural areas.


The number of accidents varies greatly by province, reflecting population density. Indeed, the number of accidental deaths is correlated with the population (Correlation coefficient: r= 0.714, p<.02)

Accidental deaths by province