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Shipping by rail in Canada: When is it your best option?

As a major Inland port, many businesses ask us when it make senses to ship products by rail? 

We understand why this question's important because the mode of transportation is key to your landed costs calculations and ultimately your bottom line.   

Linked with ship, air and truck transportation, rail represents a key component of the intermodal framework, especially in today's high-speed supply chain networks.

So how do you know if rail is the right solution for you? 

With Canada's railroads ramping up capital spending on infrastructure and equipment, intermodal services that include rail have significant benefits.

To help with your decision, we've outline advantages and disadvantages to using rail when moving goods to, from and through Canada: 

 Advantages of shipping by rail in Canada:

 Shipping by rail - CP train

1. A solution to truck driver shortage 

Canada is heading into a truck driver shortage, the Conference Board of Canada warns — our nation could be short by up to 33,000 drivers by 2020.

The impact on everyday Canadians is far-reaching.

Fewer trucks on the roads means less ability to transport goods.

Rail offers a viable alternative to trucking as capacity concerns choke transportation efficiency and driver availability continues to drain capital resources,


2. Lower costs

Rail is less expensive than truck or air by far.

Especially true for bulk commodities needing to be hauled over a long distance such as coal, lumber, grain, fertilizer, fuel, etc.

Shipping freight by rail may be less expensive if your freight is near a railhead at the point of pick-up and delivery.

Railroads offer containerized service with the containers available in different sizes allowing for cost-effective large-scale shipments.

In addition, the availability of stacked containers means significant cost savings. 

It's estimated trains are also about three times more fuel-efficient.


3. Trains are better for the environment

Trucks are notorious for contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

On the other hand, one train can carry the load of more than 280 trucks.

If you live near a railroad, you see them every day, semi-trailers secured to the deck and shipping containers stacked two-high.

They’re moving freight that isn’t clogging Canada's highways and polluting the air with excess hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxide produced by trucks.


4. Safest mode of ground freight transportation 

Railway is the safest form of transport. The chances of accidents and breakdown of railways are lower when compared to trucking.

Many highway accidents ending in fatalities often involve trucks. Less so with trains that have low accident rates.


5. Dependability 

One of the greatest advantages of railway transport is its dependability.

Rail is the least affected by weather conditions such as rains, fog etc. compared to other modes of transport.



DISADVANTAGES of shipping by rail in Canada:



1. Lack of timely transport

The main downside to rail is the lack of timely transport, a near non-starter for companies that demand just-in-time logistics.

The need to put things in storage makes rail particularly difficult for perishables.


2. Inflexibility

Inflexibility is another disadvantages of railway transport. Routes and timings cannot be adjusted to individual requirements.    


3. Unsuitable for short distances

Rail transportation is unsuitable and uneconomical for short distances and small traffic of goods.


4. Requires more extensive planning

There's much more time and labour in booking and taking delivery of goods through rail than motor transport. 

Boasting over 48,000 kilometres of track, Canada has one of the largest rail networks in the world.


Promoting a greater market share for rail transport is not a goal in itself, but is a key element in maintaining and improving the transportation infrastructure in Canada.


If you have any thoughts on the future of railway transport in Canada, we'd love to hear from you.

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About The Author

Shari Fenn
Shari Fenn
Shari is a member of the Calgary Region's transportation, supply chain and logistics content development team. She is a communications strategist, storyteller, professional writer and champion for inbound content marketing. Shari has a professional background in communications that includes clients such as VIA Rail Canada and Calgary Regional Partnership's regional transit brand, On-It. Shari is passionate about developing relevant, remarkable and authentic content.