Level of Service
Railway Level of Service Obligations
Federal railway companies, such as CN and CP, are required by law to
furnish “adequate and suitable facilities and service”. Railways cannot
arbitrarily refuse to provide service, nor do they have to comply with
every request for service. What is “adequate and suitable” depends on
what is reasonable in all the circumstances. The responsibility for
making this determination rests with the Canadian Transportation Agency
The railway’s level of service obligations include the obligation to:
- receive, carry and deliver traffic without delay;
- provide adequate cars and facilities for loading and unloading goods at all stopping points;
- facilitate the transfer of traffic to and from another railway;
- connect private sidings with their rail lines, place cars on those siding and move traffic to and from those sidings;
- provide any other service that railway companies usually offer as part of their transportation services.
of the factors which the Agency considers in dealing with a complaint
is whether the railway company is discriminating between different
shippers. Such discrimination is a good indicator that the railway
company is providing inadequate service to the complainant. It may not
be necessary to demonstrate discrimination, however, in cases where
there has been chronic neglect and shortfall of equipment.
Who can make a complaint?
A complaint that a railway company is not fulfilling its service
obligations in whole or in part may be made by a shipper, that is, a
person who sends or receives goods by railway or intends to do so.
Agency has the power to combine two or more complaints from different
shippers and to deal with them as a single proceeding. Where several
shippers initiate complaints which raise a common issue, the Agency may
combine a portion of the proceedings, if it determines that this would
be more efficient. Each shipper will be required, however to present
evidence regarding its specific circumstances.
How does the process work?
Complaints must be made in writing to the Secretary of the Agency. A
complaint should set out the basis for the complaint and include any
supporting information and documentation. The railway company has the
right to provide a written answer, and the complainant may file a
written reply to the railway’s answer. A copy of each document that is
filed with the Agency must be provided to the opposing party.
the Agency may decide to hear oral evidence from witnesses, it is not
required to do so. In fact, complaints are often dealt with on the
basis of written material alone.
What Is required for a complaint to succeed?
In reaching a decision, the Agency is likely to consider the following questions:
- What transportation alternatives does the person making the complaint have?
- What costs are associated with these alternatives?
- What costs will the railway incur if ordered to provide service?
- What service has been provided in the recent past?
- How does that differ from what the Agency is being asked to order?
- How does it differ from what the railway company is providing now?
is sometimes difficult for shippers to obtain reliable information in
all of these areas, and this represents a hurdle for anyone making a
level of service complaint.
While successful complaints are
often based on evidence that a railway company has discriminated
against the complainant, shippers should not be discouraged from making
a complaint simply because they do not have access to reliable
statistics regarding rail service provided to others. It may be
sufficient to show that the service being provided to the complainant
falls consistently and significantly short of what is required.
the CTA no longer requires the shipper to demonstrate that it will
suffer “substantial commercial harm” if the Agency does not grant an
order requiring the railway to take specific steps to improve service,
evidence showing the detrimental effect of inadequate rail service on
the shipper’s business will be important. This could include records
- the higher cost of using alternate transportation services, if they are available;
expenses or losses incurred as a result of unreliable service, for
example, lost cash flow and its impact on the shipper’s overall
- any contracts or opportunities that have been cancelled or missed as a result of inadequate service;
- plant slowdown or shutdown;
- inability to supply new or emerging markets;
- cancelled sales orders or contracts;
- complaints from customers.
How long does it take?
The Agency must make a determination within 120 days after receiving a
complaint. When a complaint is dealt with entirely in writing, however,
it will generally require less time. The Agency has the ability to
shorten the timeframes for the various procedural steps and will do so
whenever it concludes that immediate action is required. The complaint
should include a request that it be dealt with on an expedited basis
whenever necessary and state the reasons for that request.
What can the Agency do to improve inadequate rail service?
If the Agency determines that a railway is not providing adequate
service, it can order the railway to allot, distribute and use cars,
locomotives and other equipment in the manner it directs and to take
any other steps the Agency may determine appropriate. In some cases,
the Agency has required the railway to provide periodic reports to the
Agency to allow it to monitor the service being provided to the
The Agency also has the power to
order the railway to acquire whatever property may be needed to provide
proper service, such as additional cars or locomotives. The Agency will
take into account not only the financial impact that such relief would
have on the railway company but all relevant considerations, including
the impact of inadequate service on affected shippers and whether they
have effective access to transportation alternatives.
Agency has no authority to award damages for losses suffered as a
result of inadequate rail service. However, if the Agency determines
that a railway company has failed to provide adequate service, the
shipper may rely on this determination to commence a law suit for
losses resulting from the service failure.
Level of Service - Sample Complaint Letter
Level of Service - Instructions for Completing the Complaint Letter
Level of Service - Supplementary Information for the Complaint Process