Operation Lifesaver is a national public education program sponsored by the Railway Association of Canada and Transport Canada and works in co-operation with the Canada Safety Council, provincial safety councils/leagues, railway companies, unions, police, public and community groups.

Its goal is to reduce the needless loss of life, injuries and damages caused by highway/railway crossing collisions and train/pedestrian incidents.
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What is Operation Lifesaver?

In 2006, there were 249 collisions between trains and motor vehicles at highway/railway crossings in Canada, resulting in 28 deaths and 27 persons seriously injured.

In addition to highway/railway crossing collisions, there were 91 trespassing incidents, 58 fatalities and 27 serious injuries.

Many of the injured are permanently disabled. Property damages resulting from these collisions are extensive. It is no exaggeration to say that the direct and indirect costs of these incidents amount to several million dollars annually.

The railway industry considers these collisions to be a major problem. The greater tragedy, however, lies in the fact that virtually all of these incidents could have been avoided.

Rail collisions are in fact one of the most predictable of all transportation hazards. Trains and motor vehicles are alike in that both travel on hundreds of thousands of kilometres of rail or highway and urban road networks. Similarly, aircraft have millions of kilometres of air space in which to fly. But a highway/railway crossing has a precise location - the intersection of the highway and the railway track - where a collision between a motor vehicle and a train is most likely to occur.

The 2000 Summary of Railway Accidents/Incidents, a Transportation Safety Board of Canada publication, indicated that 64 per cent of collisions at public crossings occurring that year took place at crossings equipped with warning devices such as lights and bells and in 33 per cent of these cases, it was the motor vehicle that hit the side of the train.

Investigation reports often reveal that, in most circumstances, motorists are responsible for these collisions. They disregard the horn and bell warnings of approaching trains; they ignore light and bell warnings at crossings; and sometimes they even drive around lowered gates.

Not so clearly understood is why people trespass on railway property. Studies have shown that trespassing incidents often take place when people walk, lie down, cross or sit on the tracks. Incidents also occur when recreational vehicle users, cross-country skiers and hunters use the railway property as a recreational playground.

The findings of such surveys indicate that, despite the installation of gates, other warning devices, pedestrian crossovers and stricter trespassing enforcement, there is a lack of knowledge about the hazards that railways present. This communication gap is part of the problem and clearly is a part of the solution.

Therefore, to educate the public and to deal with this problem, Operation Lifesaver was established in 1981.


Railway companies and government agencies have long been concerned about the needless loss of life, the injuries and damages caused by highway/railway crossing and trespassing incidents, and the need to reduce them. As a step toward reducing these incidents, railway companies joined forces with the Railway Transport Committee of the (then) Canadian Transport Commission as well as with provincial and municipal governments in ongoing and aggressive programs to improve railway-related safety. The result was Operation Lifesaver.


Operation Lifesaver is sponsored by The Railway Association of Canada and Transport Canada and works in co-operation with the Canada Safety Council and provincial safety councils/leagues. This active, continuing public education program is designed to heighten general public awareness of the potential hazards of highway/railway crossings and to urge caution by drivers and pedestrians when in their vicinity. The program also seeks to inform the public of the dangers associated with trespassing on railway property. The goal is to reduce the number of incidents that result in fatalities, injuries, and monetary losses.

Operation Lifesaver is guided by a National Operation Lifesaver Advisory Committee, which provides advice to the national director regarding the development and implementation of the program. It is chaired by representatives of Transport Canada and the Railway Association of Canada. The other members of the committee include representatives from Transport Canada , the Canada Safety Council, CN, Canadian Pacific Railway, VIA Rail Canada Inc., the Ontario Provincial Police, the Sûreté du Québec, Go Transit, Ottawa Central Railway and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference .


The very strength of Operation Lifesaver lies in its railway/community cooperative effort. Previously, the lack of a national focal point precluded an effective exchange of information. Often films developed for one program went unused by another and one successful organization was unknown to another. In other words, the best and worst of efforts went unrecorded. Therefore, it became increasingly evident that there was a need for a national umbrella organization to collect information on all program efforts and to assist the provinces in preventing highway/railway crossing and trespassing incidents.

Operation Lifesaver seeks to join all provincial as well as federal authorities in a nation wide effort to reduce deaths, injuries and property damages resulting from railway-related incidents. To achieve such a union, Operation Lifesaver, in cooperation with businesses, governments, railways and civic leaders, has and will continue to produce printed material, films, audio-visual presentations, etc., to assist in all stages of planning, implementing and evaluating an Operation Lifesaver program. Participation by the federal government and provincial organizations is essential to the success of the project. Operation Lifesaver staff, located in the offices of The Railway Association of Canada in Ottawa, are available to assist with these programs.


The four areas of concentration are:


Operation Lifesaver's success lies in educating people of all ages about the dangers of highway/railway crossings and the seriousness of trespassing on railway property. The methods used to reach the public include the production and distribution of educational related material, early elementary and driver education curriculum activities, civic presentations, as well as media coverage.


Laws are in place governing motorists' and pedestrians' rights and responsibilities at highway/railway crossings and on railway property. Without enforcement, however, they will be ignored and disregarded, and incidents will continue to happen. Therefore, provincial and municipal law enforcement agencies are urged to deal with motorists and pedestrians who disregard these laws and jeopardize their lives as well as the lives of others.


Highway/railway crossings, railway property and pedestrian crossings must be kept safe, both physically and operationally, and improvements must be made when needed. To ensure a high level of safety, the administrative process of improving railway rights-of-way needs to be reviewed and changed when needed. At the same time, the public needs to be made more aware of federal, provincial and other programs aimed at improving railway safety.


To maintain the quality of Operation Lifesaver, its effect should be measured against its stated goals. Such evaluation is to be performed under the supervision of the national director. Funds are available for technical and program assistance.


Transport Canada and the Railway Association of Canada also work together on Direction 2006.

Direction 2006 is a partnership between all levels of government, railway companies, public safety organizations, police, unions and community groups. Its objective is to reduce highway/railway crossing collisions and trespassing incidents by 50 per cent by the year 2006. Click here

Operation Lifesaver and Direction 2006 work closely with provincial safety councils, police forces, railway unions, and public interest organizations.