For more than a century, railway stations have been an integral part of the Canadian landscape. Not only do they stand as testimony to Canada's development, but to many Canadian communities they are an important source of pride. That a great many Canadians feel an attachment to these railway stations is shown by their enthusiastic efforts to preserve them.

Until the late 1980's, public efforts to preserve railway stations were hindered by the absence of legislation. As most railway stations are owned or controlled by federally regulated railway companies, they are not subject to the various provincial laws that protect heritage. In 1988 Parliament passed a private member's bill to protect these railway stations. The Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act was given Royal Assent in September 1988.

The Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act requires federally regulated railway companies to obtain authorization from the Governor in Council before removing, destroying, altering or disposing of a heritage railway station, and before altering any of the heritage features of the station. It also allows for timely public involvement in opposing those interventions that are seen as potentially deleterious to a heritage railway station or its heritage features. The Act provides for heavy fines for infractions.

The Heritage Railway Stations Policy is based on the Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act. Responsibility for the implementation of the Act and this policy has been given to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, who is supported by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

The Heritage Railway Stations Policy promotes consultation, dialogue and public participation in the pursuit of the shared goal of identifying and conserving the built heritage. The policy establishes processes for identifying and evaluating heritage railway stations; for specifying, where applicable, the features that give them heritage value; and for reviewing on a case-by-case basis any intervention that might affect them or their heritage features. The federal government encourages railway companies that own or control these stations to apply cultural resource management methods in their treatment of them, and to set an example in conserving aspects of Canada's built heritage.