Railway accident records at Library and Archives Canada

By Rebecca Murray

In recent years, large-scale railway derailments and collisions have caught our attention and have become questions of public safety, but this is not a new chapter in Canadian transportation history. Rail accidents dot the history of railways in Canada and have shaped the lives of many Canadians.

A black and white photograph of a partially derailed train in a train yard. Snow covers the ground and a city can be seen in the background.

Cars off track at Strachan Avenue, Toronto, December 19, 1916. Photograph taken by John Boyd (MIKAN 3364261)

Have you witnessed a railway accident? Was a family member or friend involved in a railway accident? Do you have an interest in railway history in a specific region or for a specific railway company? These are just some of the many reasons that researchers consult Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) Reference Services regarding railway accident records.

Starting your railway accident research

First, gather as much information as you can about the rail accident prior to contacting or visiting LAC. The exact date and location are extremely important, as are details such as individuals involved and if possible, type of accident (e.g. public crossing, derailment, crash). If you are missing some of these details, consult newspapers on microfilm or online before undertaking your search with LAC’s online tools. Accident records are usually organized chronologically by date, so the date is key for you to start your research with the correct institution.

LAC holds rail accident records for investigations that began in 1990 or earlier, whereas the Transportation Safety Board maintains an online database for investigations from 1991 to the present.

Records at LAC

Railway accident records can be found in various series of the Canadian Transport Commission fonds (RG46) depending on the time period and type of accident.

I suggest relying on the following search strategies and finding aids to begin your research:

Finding Aid # Format Time Period How to Use the Finding Aid
46-21 Archives Search 1838–1987 In the first box, click on the down arrow and select Finding aid number. In the box to the right, type 46-21. In the second row of boxes, the default is Any keyword. Type in accident in the box to its right. Press Enter. In the results list, you can use the right menu to sort all results by date, or you can limit your results to a specific decade.
46-10 Online Finding Aid 46-10 1904–1949, 1964–1972 The finding aid is arranged alphabetically and then chronologically by railway company. Each report varies in content, but often references accidents.
46-55 Online Finding Aid 46-55 1900–1992 Accidents at public crossings arranged alphabetically by geographic subdivision
46-58 Online Finding Aid 46-58 1982–1983 Chronological
46-59 Online Finding Aid 46-59 1984 Chronological

There are also additional resources online and onsite at Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington St., Ottawa. You can use Archives Search to do general keyword searches with terms like “rail” AND “accident” (or “derailment” or “collision”) and use the right menu to sort all results by date, or you can limit your results to a specific decade.

If you follow the steps described above and still can’t find what you’re looking for, don’t despair! Reference Services staff are always just a call or click away. You are also welcome to visit in person. No matter how you contact us, we are happy to help researchers with their questions.


Rebecca Murray is a reference archivist in the Reference Services Division of Library and Archives Canada.

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