Celebrating 40 years of saving lives

Forty years ago this month, Operation Lifesaver (OL) Canada was officially created with the sole purpose of preventing railway crossing tragedies. In September 1981, Canada’s railway companies joined forces with federal, provincial and municipal governments to launch the organization—and we’ve been working to save lives ever since. 

By promoting safety-conscious attitudes toward railways and safe driving skills, and encouraging Canadians to adhere to railway signs and signals, OL’s efforts have contributed to significant reductions in train-vehicle collisions and trespassing incidents over the past 40 years.
Halving incidents, then halving them again
The first major gains in incident reduction were made in the 1980s; rail crossing incidents were reduced by more than 50 per cent between 1980 and 1990, which also coincided with a significant reduction in fatalities. In 1989, OL added an anti-trespassing component to its mandate, to help further reduce the number of preventable rail-related injuries and deaths.
In 1996, OL worked with its partners and the federal government to launch Direction 2006. This initiative sought to halve railway crossing and trespassing incidents over ten years—a lofty goal that was achieved. As a partnership between all levels of government, railway companies, public safety organizations, police, unions and community groups, Direction 2006 led to the development of new materials―including information kiosks, training manuals, videos, billboards, and a national radio and television public-awareness campaign―and was an example of the gains that can be made through cooperation.
As a result of all these efforts, as well crossing infrastructure improvements and technological innovations over the past four decades, there are, on average, a total of 228 rail crossing and trespassing incidents and 100 associated fatalities and serious injuries in Canada each year. Still, Operation Lifesaver’s goal is to get those numbers to zero―and we continue to innovate to educate Canadians about rail safety and save lives.
Continuously adapting over four decades
Over the past 40 years, OL has always looked for new ways to reach Canadians with its rail safety message. With the advance of social media, OL harnessed platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to reach young people―those most likely to be involved in rail-related incidents.

More recently, we’ve used virtual reality (VR) and digital mapping technologies to get our message across to our target audiences. Our Look. Listen. Live. videos immerse viewers in 3D environments and give them the shocking―and hopefully unforgettable―experience of how quickly a collision with a train can happen. Similarly, our Train to Drive program uses VR and encourages drivers to test their skills in making real-time decisions around virtual tracks and trains, and to see the results—both good and tragic—without putting their own safety at risk. In addition, our recent partnership with Waze, the popular navigation application, is allowing us to alert Canadian drivers to approaching rail crossings through an innovative safety feature embedded in the app.

In 2018, we also launched our #STOPTrackTragedies campaign in partnership with Operation Lifesaver Inc. in the U.S. This heart-wrenching campaign tells the personal stories of those affected by railway crossing and trespassing incidents: victims, friends and family members, locomotive engineers and first responders. #STOPTrackTragedies has really resonated with the public―generating more than 3.4 million video views and 15 million impressions, and reaching an estimated 15 million listeners since the social and broadcast media campaign was first launched.

Finally, this summer, OL also launched a new suicide-prevention public-awareness campaign. The Today is Better campaign consists of 11 poignant and hopeful videos featuring the personal stories of Canadians who’ve experienced suicidal thoughts, but found help. Our rail partners have helped to promote the campaign by placing Today is Better posters in rail stations, and by installing 3,000 signs promoting the Canada Suicide Prevention Service along railway rights-of-way from coast to coast. The aim is to let Canadians in crisis know that help is only a phone call away.
As we look to the future, OL will continue to search for new and innovative ways to educate Canadians about the hazards associated with railway tracks and trains, and to prevent needless rail-related deaths and injuries.
Saving lives is a team effort
As a small organization, much of what OL has accomplished over the past four decades is largely due to the efforts of our partners and volunteers. Our Rail Safety Ambassadors (RSAs) share our belief that every rail-related death or injury can—and should—be prevented. They help us get our message out to the public through social media and by taking part in Operation Lifesaver’s events. And they are essential to our mission.
As we close out this―our 19th annual―Rail Safety Week, we want to thank our RSAs for their efforts and for contributing to OL’s success over the past 40 years.
If you’re interested in becoming a part of OL’s team of Rail Safety Ambassadors, now is the perfect time to do so. Please join us in celebrating our 40th anniversary by signing up today—and help us realize our goal of making rail-related injuries and deaths a thing of the past.