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Analysis of Canadian Train Derailments from 2001 to 2014 Open Access


Other title
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Leishman, Eric M
Supervisor and department
Martin, Derek (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
Hendry, Michael (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
Examining committee member and department
Hendry, Michael (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
Gul, Mustafa (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
Martin, Derek (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Geotechnical Engineering
Date accepted
Graduation date
2017-11:Fall 2017
Master of Science
Degree level
Rail transportation is a vital component of Canada’s economy, with great distances separating urban centres. Disruptions to rail service can have costly implications, not only in terms of monetary loss, but also to the environment, the public and railroad employees. Derailments account for a large number of these disruptions, and are caused by a number of factors. This study investigates long term trends in the number of derailments on Canadian railways from 2001 to 2014, with a focus on main track rail. The total number of derailments are considered, as well as just those that involved dangerous goods cars. To reflect changes in rail traffic volumes over the study period, these trends are normalized against gross tonne-km of goods transported. Another area of focus of this research was to determine the leading causes of derailments, and to assess both frequency and severity for these causes. It was expected that a number of causes would show some degree of seasonality, with subgrade issues more common in the summer and mechanical issues more common in the winter. Spatial trends were developed based on the physiographic regions of Canada to assess the effects of physical geography on the safe operation of railways. Four of the leading derailment causes were selected for this analysis. This analysis accomplished by analyzing data from two primary sources. Derailment data was obtained from the Railway Occurrence Database System, a database of Canadian rail incidents maintained by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB). An abbreviated version is publicly available on-line, but a more extensive database was provided for this study by the TSB. This database contains information on all types of rail incidents that are self-reported by the railway operators. Rail traffic data was obtained from publicly available tables on the Statistics Canada website. A decreasing trend in main track derailments, as well as the subset of derailments with dangerous goods cars involved, was observed from 2001 to 2014. During this time period, it was found that the cause associated with the greatest number of derailments was the “rail, joint bar and rail anchoring” incident cause, followed by “track geometry,” “environmental conditions” and “wheels.” These four causes were included in the seasonal and spatial analyses, and it was observed that derailments due to rail and wheel breaks were more common in the winter, while derailments attributed to subgrade and track geometry issues were more common in the summer. Spatially, a higher number of derailments occurred in the Cordillera, Interior Plains and Canadian Shield regions, while comparatively few occurred in the St. Lawrence Lowlands and Appalachian regions. Decreasing or relatively consistent trends were observed in each region.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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