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Canadian Railways: Catalysts for our Country’s Economic Recovery

2020 has been a year of significant challenges but we look to the future with renewed optimism. From global events such as the rise of the movements for equality and social justice to a pandemic that continues to affect most of the globe. More specifically in our industry; labour disruptions, blockades and of course, the impacts that the COVID-19 crisis is having on our members.

Well before the COVID-19 global pandemic hit home here in Canada, Canadian railways and their employees were committed to ensuring our network works for all who count upon us. Despite a challenging year, we persevered, and we delivered.

Over the past several months, the industry has continued to deliver as we always do — safely and reliably.  Indeed, railways are ready to play an even bigger role as the emergency mindset gives way to longer-term recovery planning.

Something that has remained at the forefront of everything we do, is our industry’s unwavering commitment to the safety of every individual who works for or interacts with our railways, in any capacity. We had a very successful Rail Safety Week 2020 last week and would like to thank all our members who took part by amplifying Operation Lifesaver’s important message and creating their own campaigns. While the industry as a whole puts a special emphasis on safety during this week every year, we remain focused on it every single day. We encourage you to visit the Operation Lifesaver site which has many campaigns and other resources for you to use.

Another constant this year, is the leadership, flexibility and adaptability shown by our member railways during the last 6 months – all while protecting and maintaining the safety, fluidity and efficiency of our rail networks. Fiona Murray, Chairperson of the RAC Board recorded a video on our behalf to express our appreciation for all railroaders.

Throughout the pandemic, the RAC made it a priority to engage with our members on a regular basis to ensure that we had a solid understanding of how day-to-day operations were being affected by the pandemic.  In turn, we communicated this information to legislators at all levels of government, so that our members’ voices were not only heard, but also acted upon.

At the federal level, the RAC has been in communication with the Prime Minister’s Office, as well as several cabinet ministers, on a wide variety of issues of importance to Canada’s railway industry.  Whether it’s been highlighting the plight of our passenger rail operators during the pandemic, including tourism and commuter railways that are suffering unprecedented challenges, or promoting the vital importance of our freight carriers, including shortline railways, which are essential components of Canada’s supply chain, the RAC has been resolute in its approach.

Throughout the pandemic, the RAC has remained committed to educating and collaborating with supply chain partners, governments, regulators and other stakeholders and advocating to ensure rail’s ongoing role in safely and efficiently moving Canada’s goods, resources and people.

To continue to serve its members by providing outreach, research and public education to ensure that Canadians and key stakeholder are aware of the critical role rail plays in our lives and our economy, the RAC has brought on several new senior individuals who all bring news skills, experience and depth to the team. You can learn more about them here.

Economic Recovery

This year has served as a great reminder for all that railways are central to Canada’s economy, interacting with all facets of society: customers, suppliers, and communities from coast to coast. Freight railways support economic prosperity by connecting local businesses to domestic and international markets and provide Canadians with the goods required to stay healthy and safe. They have had to manage capacity and resource allocation in a year where industries such as forestry, which was showing signs of slowing in the first part of the year saw dramatic increases during the spring and summer as Canadians chose to stay home and allocate their dollars to projects closer to home instead of vacations. They were also instrumental in insuring critical food supplies were delivered, and both CN & CP saw record grain-haul years in 2019-2020.

Passenger railways have continued to ensure that millions of Canadians can travel by rail to and from work and remain connected with their family and friends in an environmentally friendly way. While they were experiencing passenger volumes as low as 5% at the peak of the pandemic, they are increasing service levels and are welcoming more and more passengers, with commuter railways seeing similar trends.

Tourism railways which are a critical component of Canada’s vibrant $100 billion tourism industry have been hit the hardest with the pandemic as they saw their season get postponed and eventually cancelled. The RAC has been and continues to advocate on their behalf for access to capital and the creation of a task force to develop a long-term recovery plan.

In recent weeks, the RAC has focused its federal advocacy efforts on leveraging the benefits of rail, and promoting government investments into the rail-based supply chain which will generate long-term value for Canada and ensure that Canadians continue to benefit from resilient freight and passenger railway services.

In early August, the RAC delivered its 2021 Pre-budget Submission to the House of Commons Finance Committee.  The submission included several recommendations, based on input and feedback we received from our members.  Since then, the RAC has held one-on-one virtual meetings with dozens of Senators and MPs from across the country to raise awareness and further promote the recommendations included in the pre-budget submission.

The responses we have received from federal legislators have been very positive so far. They, as well as top government officials, are becoming increasingly aware of the challenges facing railway operators as a result of COVID, but we are also clearly demonstrating the railway industry’s resilience and promoting ways that our operators can be part of the economic reopening as the government’s focus shifts from emergency relief to boosting the economy. We continue to be committed to clean growth as our members remain committed to help Canada to meet its international environmental commitments. With more meetings planned in the weeks ahead, we are optimistic that our approach will yield positive results in the long run, as the government continues to develop its plan to reinvigorate Canada’s economy.

In the meantime, the RAC also continues to promote the four key pillars of our Right Track initiative, including safety, innovation, environmental responsibility, and economic growth.  There is no question that rail will be valued as Canada’s safest, most innovative and fastest growing mode of transportation in the future.

That future starts now, by ensuring that Canada’s railway industry serves as a catalyst for our country’s economic recovery.