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Canada’s Freight Railways: Moving the Economy

Since the birth of Canada’s first railway back in 1836, rail has been fundamental to our nation’s prosperity. But what started out as a 26-kilometre rail line has expanded into an intricate network of almost 43,000 kilometres of track, and one of the most efficientsafe and cost-effective transportation systems in the world. Today, around 70 per cent of all intercity surface freight and half of Canada’s exports are moved by rail. In fact, on average, Canada’s railways move a tonne of freight one kilometre for around 4 cents.

Railways Big and Small Help Deliver Canada’s Amazing Products to the World

Canada’s freight rail industry is the backbone of our economy, transporting approximately $380 billion worth of goods each year on a network that runs from coast to coast to coast. Our freight railways serve customers in almost every part of the Canadian economy: from manufacturing, to the agricultural, natural resource, wholesale and retail sectors.

Class 1 freight railways, together with our country’s approximately 40 local and regional railways—or shortlines—open the doors to trade for Canadian businesses. Shortlines provide vital first-mile/last-mile service to customers not served directly by Class 1 railways. By moving traffic to and from the main lines, where CN and CPKC handle the long-haul transportation, they help the manufacturing and resource sectors access world markets.

Helping Canadian Businesses Compete—and Win—in the Global Marketplace

Canada’s economic growth and standard of living depend on the export and import of goods, and our freight railways ensure that those goods make it to market as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.

Canadian railways moved more 330 million tonnes of freight in 2022. Through a network of intermodal terminals (rail, ship and truck) across North America, our railways help to deliver approximately $200 billion worth of Canadian exports to markets across North America and around the globe.

Canadian railways offer some of the most competitive freight rates in the world, which helps to save customers (and ultimately, consumers) billions. Since 1988, rail freight rates have increased by a total of 63.0%, which is much less than the increases in  consumer prices (112.4%), industrial product prices (116.7%), and commodity prices (185.0%). Together, shortline and Class 1 freight railways keep Canada’s economy rolling and help our nation to stay competitive in today’s global economy.