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"Transportation is essential to our well-being. Canadians need a reliable, safe and sustainable transportation system to connect our communities, and to connect us with our trading partners." (1)

Transportation industries account for approximately 4% of Canada's gross domestic product, and employ more than 800 000 people.(2) However, these statistics vastly understate the importance of transportation in this country because of the fact that private cars and trucks account for a large proportion of both passenger and freight movements. When commercial and private transportation are considered together, more than $150 billion a year, or one in every seven dollars spent in Canada, goes to pay for transportation.(2) Overall, it is difficult to overestimate the importance of transportation to Canadian life.

The scale and use of Canada's road, rail, water and air transportation systems are shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Canadian transportation system (data from references 2, 3, and 4)
Mode Component Activity (annual statistics based on most recent year available)
Road
  • Length of roads:a 1.42 million km
  • Registered motor vehicles: 17.3 million (16.6 million cars and other light vehicles; 575 000 heavier trucks)
  • Service stations: 16 000
  • Light vehicle movements:b 282 billion vehicle-km
  • Freight movementsc by Canadian-based carriers: 165 billion tonne-km
  • Trans-border crossings by truck: 13 million
Rail Rail network: 50 000 km
  • Freight movementsc by Canadian railways: 321 billion tonne-km
  • Passenger movementsd on VIA Rail: 1.6 billion passenger-km
Air
  • Airports: 1 716, including the 26 airports in the National Airports System (NAS)
  • Aircraft: 28 000
  • Domestic (within Canada) passenger traffic: 26 million passengers
  • International passenger traffic (including US): 33 million passengers
  • Value of air-cargo trade: $82 billion
Water
  • Ports: 18 operating under Canada Port Authorities plus hundreds of regional/local ports and fishing/recreational harbours
  • Commercial marine vessels: 2 170
  • Freight handled by Canada's ports: 405 million tonnes
  • Ferry passengers: 40 million
Urban Transit Urban transit fleet (buses and rail vehicles): 14 300 Number of passengers: 1.5 billion

a two-lane equivalent (e.g., a four-lane highway that extends 100 km is counted as 200 km)
b one vehicle-km represents one vehicle traveling one km
c one tonne-km represents one tonne being transported one km
d one passenger-km represents one person being transported one km

It has been estimated that the road system alone has an asset value approaching $100 billion.(5) The dominant modes of transportation, as well as the role of transportation in the economy, vary from one region to another. For example, more than 60% of Canada's trade with the United States moves through Ontario, primarily by truck. In contrast, trade with other countries is primarily by ship, with rail lines providing vital links between areas of production and coastal ports.(3) For passenger movements, Canadians everywhere rely on private automobiles for short and medium trips, but air traffic dominates interprovincial and international movements, and public transit is primarily a large-city phenomenon. Assessing the vulnerability of transportation in Canada to climate change is an important step toward ensuring a safe, efficient and resilient transportation system in the decades ahead. Our present system is rated as one of the best in the world.(6) Despite this, transportation in Canada remains sensitive to a number of weather-related hazards, as illustrated by recent examples (Table 2). Future climate change of the magnitude projected for the present century by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), specifically an increase in global mean annual temperature of 1.4-5.8°C,(15) would have both positive and negative impacts on Canada's transportation infrastructure and operations. These impacts would be caused by changes in temperature and precipitation, extreme climate events (including severe storms), and water level changes in oceans, lakes and rivers. The main sensitivities of Canada's transportation system to such changes are summarized in Figure 1.

Table 2: Examples of weather-related transportation sensitivities

2001-2002 A mild winter with reduced snowfall in southern Ontario and Quebec saved the insurance industry millions of dollars from road-accident claims.(7)
2000 On January 21, a storm surge caused extensive flooding in Charlottetown and other communities along the Gulf of St. Lawrence coastline in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.(8)
1999 On September 3, a fog-related crash involving 87 vehicles on Highway 401 near Chatham, Ontario resulted in 8 deaths and 45 injuries.(9)
1999 A dry spring in 1999 contributed to extensive forest fires and temporary road closures throughout northwestern Ontario, beginning in May.(10)
1998 The January ice storm in southern Quebec, eastern Ontario and parts of the Maritime Provinces restricted mobility for up to several weeks due to downed power lines, broken and uprooted trees, and slippery roads.(11)
1997-1998 Due to warmer temperatures, the Manitoba government spent $15-16 million flying in supplies to communities normally served by winter roads.(12)
1997 The December 16 crash of Air Canada flight 646 in Fredericton was blamed on a mixture of regulatory and human weaknesses, compounded by fog.(13)
1996-1997 A series of winter storms affected Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland and the Fraser Valley from December 22 to January 3. Extremely heavy snowfall, up to 85 cm in a single 24-hour period, paralyzed road, rail and air infrastructure.(14)

Figure 1: Possible implications of climate change for Canada's transportation system (modified from reference 16)
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This chapter examines recent research on climate change impacts and adaptation in the Canadian transportation sector, recognizing that this represents a relatively new field of study, particularly compared to sectors such as water resources, agriculture and fisheries (other chapters of this report). An overview of potential impacts of climate change on transportation infrastructure and operations is followed by an examination of adaptation issues related to design and construction, information systems, and the need for a more resilient and sustainable transportation system. Discussion is largely restricted to Canada's road, rail, air and water systems, although the transportation sector, in the broadest sense, includes such other infrastructure as pipelines, energy transmission and communication networks.

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