Rail Monitoring at the Agency

The Agency monitors rail performance and service issues using publicly available data.

This includes:

CN & CPKC volumes

We monitor growth and declines in overall volumes and shares of the total carloads and Revenue Ton Miles (RTM). We also examine Canadian, US, and Mexican volumes to assess North American trends.

We use several corroborating resources to assess timely measures of rail volumes for CN  and volumes for CPKC. These measures are compared to previous levels and allow for a quick overview of rail system performance against base-level operations.

This monitoring is an assessment of the rail service supplied. It doesn't provide information on demand or timeliness of service.

North American comparisons are based on AAR data reported weekly, for Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

We use these measures to help understand relative disruptions caused by events external to the rail transportation system, and to provide context to North American issues.

Grain Data

We monitor grain volumes and movement based on data from the Grain Monitoring ProgramAg Transport Coalition, CN's Western Canadian Grain Report and CPKC's Grain Performance report. This monitoring includes tracking:

  • the size of the available crop,
  • the distribution of grain throughout the supply chain, and
  • the timeliness of service to shippers.

This data shows how the service provided compares to the Grain Handling and Transportation System (GHTS) needs. If the service levels don't allow the GHTS to function effectively, this may be cause for further investigation. It is key to determine whether rail service is the cause of such disruptions. If rail service is the cause, it is necessary to determine whether there are issues beyond the carrier's control (e.g., blockades, line closures associated with weather events, etc.) that led to the disruptions.

Information on rail service

We use data published through the Transportation Data and Information Hub to monitor the following:

  • Terminal performance, train speeds, etc., by commodity or region.
  • Timeliness of service, compared across broad historical reference periods.

This data helps assess the overall health of the transportation system (e.g., flow rates and throughput). It also provides some evidence of service timeliness. This can further point to service disruptions as they evolve and potentially require further investigation, as described above.

Use of embargoes in Canada

We monitor the AAR embargoes system to ensure embargoes are targeted, used when necessary, and only as a last resort.

Embargo data can indicate and help provide precision on the specific causes or impacts of observed service disruptions. They can also identify commercial practices (such as the unilateral imposition of embargoes to meter traffic) not in keeping with the carrier's obligations to the transportation system and its users.

Other information on rail service

If we identify issues from the above sources, we may analyze and assess other data, such as flows at ports, container shipping or transmodal issues, and any stakeholder-supplied information.

This data often speaks to the overall health of the system and the short-term elasticity of rail supply. Depending on the specific circumstances, this information may be used to provide context or may form a central portion of the assessment to launch an investigation.

Outreach activities

In addition to the data monitoring set out above, we also have regular meetings to monitor operational issues with organizations, including:

  • Coalition of Rail Shippers
  • CN
  • CPKC
  • Freight Management Association of Canada
  • Transport Canada
  • Western Canadian Shippers Coalition
  • Other interested stakeholder groups and organizations

We also have a Railway, Rail Shipper, and Community Help Line (1-877-850-7148) used by hundreds of our stakeholders yearly. This service is an informal but valuable source of information on level of service and other rail issues.


We continuously monitor Canada's rail system, particularly concerning the level of service provided by railways.

Under the Canada Transportation Act (the Act), the Agency may instigate an inquiry to determine whether a railway company is fulfilling its service obligations. This can only be done with the authorization of the Minister of Transport and is subject to conditions he might set.

In such an investigation, we can determine whether a service level failure has occurred. If a failure occurs, we can order corrective measures to reduce or eliminate the underlying causes of such issues.

It should be noted, however, that in all cases involving Level of Service evaluation, the Act requires that we consider a range of factors, and apply a consistent approach in assessing whether a service failure has occurred.

While Level of Service obligations are strong obligations under normal ranges of demand and operations, it must be noted that they are not absolute. In certain circumstances, there can be justifiable reasons why these obligations may be reduced in the short term.

Specifically, Subsection 116(1.2) of the Act requires the Agency to consider the following list of factors in assessing the actual service obligations:

  1. the traffic to which the service obligations relate;
  2. the reasonableness of the shipper’s requests with respect to the traffic;
  3. the service that the shipper requires with respect to the traffic;
  4. any undertaking with respect to the traffic given by the shipper to the company;
  5. the company’s and the shipper’s operational requirements and restrictions;
  6. the company’s obligations, if any, with respect to a public passenger service provider;
  7. the company’s obligations in respect of the operation of the railway under this Act;
  8. the company’s contingency plans to allow it to fulfil its service obligations when faced with foreseeable or cyclical events; and
  9. any information that the Agency considers relevant.

As a result, the relevant test, applied by the Agency in both Level of Service applications and own-motion investigations, is grounded in the specific context of each individual service request and the prevailing operating environment at that time.

As such, there is no overarching assessment of when service will be considered reasonable, however, historical cases can provide a baseline for considering such assessments, adjusted to reflect the specific considerations in a given case.

If you have additional questions on these provisions, please contact the Agency Rail Help Line.

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