Canada transportation becomes safer as rates of accidents drop, watchdog says

If you're taking a plane flight, a rail trip, shipping yourself or some cargo over water or through a pipeline, the Transportation Safety Board has good news.

Canada's independent agency investigating air, sea and land accidents, says in its annual report that the rate of "occurrences" dropped last year, continuing an encouraging downward trend.

"Improving the safety of Canada's transportation system is the TSB's number one priority," TSB chairwoman Wendy Tadros said in a Postmedia News report.

"We are pleased with the progress made, but every year we investigate many new accidents, some with similar causes. We will continue to call upon industry and government to make the meaningful changes needed to ensure our pipelines, our railways, our waters and our skies will be safer for Canadians."

The board said in a news release there were 2,882 total reported occurrences last year, resulting in 121 fatalities. The daily rate of occurrences dropped to 7.9 last year from 8.4 per day in 2010.

Rail accidents accounted for 71 deaths last year but that was still a five-year low, the board said.

"Notable strides have also been made in the number of crossing accidents and non main-track derailments," the board said. "However, the number of trespasser-related occurrences remains high, accounting for 63 per cent of all rail fatalities."

There was a significant drop in marine occurrences, 322 in 2011, compared with 354 in 2010, down nine per cent. That's also 23 per cent better than the average rate for 2006 to 2010 of 420.

"In 2011, Canadian-flagged fishing vessels were involved in 36 per cent of shipping accidents in Canada, down from 42 per cent in 2010," the board's release said, adding that despite the encouraging trend, "more needs to be done to ensure those working in the fishing industry can, and will, work safely."

The aviation sector accounted for 932 occurrences, down 18 per cent from the 2006-2010 average of 1,135.

A total of 257 air accidents were reported, down 11 per cent from 2010, resulting in 70 deaths, which was the same as the previous year.

"Although the number of accidents involving privately owned aircraft has edged down slightly since 2010, these occurrences still account for 67 per cent of all accidents reported," the board cautioned.

"Overall, aircraft accident rates in Canada have continued to improve, with 5.7 accidents per 100,000 flying hours, down from the five-year rate of 6.2."

With the contentious Gateway and Keystone XL pipelines attracting opposition over potential environmental threats, the TSB said the pipeline industry reported just five accidents in Canada last year, compared with 11 in 2010.

The five-year average up to 2010 was nine accidents resulting in serious injury or death. There has not been a fatal pipeline accident on a federally regulated pipeline since 1988.

However, the number of  less-serious incidents rose to 165 from 145 the previous year, 82 per cent of which involved "uncontained or uncontrolled release of small quantities of gas, oil and high-vapour-pressure products."

"As in 2010, the 2011 increase in incidents can be attributed to the addition of a major pipeline to federal jurisdiction," the board reported.