With such a vast land area, and with most production inland, all forms of transportation are vital. Since 1945, with the rapid growth of road, air, and pipeline services, the trend has been away from railways for carrying both freight and passengers. But because they can supply all-weather transportation in large volume over continental distances, railways are still important. The federal government, through the Canadian Transport Commission, has allowed a few rate rises and has insisted on a slow curtailment of services; nevertheless, the companies have traditionally operated at a deficit or very low margin of profit because of competition and rising costs. There were an estimated 36,114 km (22,441 mi) of all standard gauge railways in 2001. Two great continental systems operate about 90% of the railway facilities, the government-owned Canadian National Railways (CNR), which was privatized in 1995, and the privately owned Canadian Pacific Ltd. (CP). They compete in some areas but cooperate where duplication of service is not profitable. In addition to their railway operations, CNR and CP maintain steamships and ferries, nationwide telegraph services, highway transport services, and hotel chains.
The populated sections are generally well supplied with roads and highways, but because of difficult winter weather conditions, road maintenance is a recurring and expensive task and puts a tremendous strain on road-building facilities. There are about 901,902 km (560,442 mi) of roads, 318,371 km (197,835 mi) of which is paved, including 16,571 km (10,297 mi) of expressways. The 7,820-km (4,860-mi) paved Trans-Canada Highway, a C $500-million project financed jointly by the federal and provincial governments, was completed in 1962. Canada ranks next to the United States in per capita use of motor transport, with one passenger car for every 2 persons. Motor vehicles in use in 2000 totaled 18,449,900, including 14,147,300 passenger cars and 4,302,600 trucks, buses, and taxis.
Bounded by water except for the Alaskan and southern land boundaries with the United States, and with many inland lakes and rivers that serve as traffic arteries, Canada makes much use of water transport in domestic as well as foreign commerce. Canada has 3,000 km (1,864 mi) of waterways, including the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Canada has access to three oceans, Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic. Canada's merchant fleet was comprised of 122 ships, totaling 1,797,240 GRT, in 2002. Most overseas commerce is carried by foreign ships. Montréal is Canada's largest port and the world's largest grain port. Others among the many well-equipped ports are Toronto, Hamilton, Port Arthur, and Fort William on the Great Lakes, and Vancouver on the Pacific Coast. The Montréal and lake ports are closed by ice from December to April, during which time Halifax on the Atlantic and Saint John on the Bay of Fundy are the only Atlantic Ocean traffic terminals.
The St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project, constructed jointly by Canada and the United States, and its many canals provide an 8-m (27-ft) navigation channel from Montréal to Lake Superior. The Athabasca and Slave rivers and the Mackenzie, into which they flow, provide an inland, seasonal water transportation system from the end of the railway in Alberta to the Arctic Ocean. The Yukon River is usually open from mid-May to mid-October. All Canadian inland waterways are open on equal terms to the shipping of all nations.
Canada had 1,419 airports in 2001, including 507 with permanent runways. Principal airports include Calgary International at Calgary, Edmonton International at Edmonton, Halifax International at Halifax, Lester Pearson at Toronto, Vancouver International at Vancouver, Winnipeg International at Winnipeg, and Dorval International and Mirabel International at Montreal. International air service is provided by government-owned Air Canada and Canadian Airlines. Regional service is provided by some 570 smaller carriers. Air transport is the chief medium in the northern regions for passengers and freight. Canadian airlines transported 24,203,800 passengers in 2001.