Road & Rail

Via Rail cancels most trains across Canada amid ongoing protests

Christian Fleetwood

Christian Fleetwood

Canada’s train system is suffering as a result of ongoing anti-pipeline blockades by protesters.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the press his government is committed to finding a peaceful solution to First Nations-led protests that have shut down much of the country’s train system, disrupting just shy of 100,000 train passengers.

Members of the Wetʼsuwetʼen and Mohawk first nations are opposing a proposed natural-gas pipeline that would cross both of their territories in British Columbia. According to national news agency The Canadian Press, these protests have manifested as blockades on different rail lines across the country.

The protests have taken a heavy toll on two of the country’s main passenger train providers: Via Rail and the public, transcontinental Canadian National Railway company.

VIA Rail operates intercity, regional and transcontinental trains linking more than 400 communities across Canada, and about 180 more communities through intermodal partnerships. It transported over 5 million passengers in 2019.

As of Sunday, 409 of the rail company’s trains had been cancelled due to the blockades, with the company forced to cancel most of its services until further notice.

More than 83,000 passengers have also been affected, all of who are entitled to refunds, the company said.

Union Station, Toronto, Canada: VIA Rail employs more than 3,000 employees (iStock/jimfeng)

In a statement addressed to affected passengers, Via Rail’s chief executive and president Cynthia Gameau said the company is hoping for an end to the situation soon, but “it is not in our control”.

“Our focus is to continue to work with the infrastructure owner, CN [Canadian National Railway], on making sure normal service resumes and we welcome you back on board as quickly as possible once the situation is resolved.”

CN has meanwhile announced up to 1,000 temporary layoffs of staff, as protests have shuttered much of the railway’s eastern Canadian network, with trains that typically transport thousands of commuters and billions of dollars’ worth of freight idling in railyards and sidings across the country since the blockades began earlier this month, The Globe and Mail reported.

Trudeau, who said he had spoken to several premiers and Canadian Indigenous leaders, did not specify how he and his government plan to deal with the crisis, The Canadian Press reported.

“I understand how worrisome this is for so many Canadians and difficult for many people and families across the country,” Trudeau said outside the Prime Minister’s Office.

“We’re going to continue to focus on resolving the situation quickly and peacefully, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

The demonstrations were launched in response to now-concluded Royal Canadian Mounted Police raids in British Columbia against camps built to block construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, which runs in several parts through non-ceded native territories, CBC reported.

Protesters putting their personal safety at risk: CN

Earlier this week, rail infrastructure provider Canadian National Railway said it had sought and obtained court orders to end three new “illegal blockades” in Vancouver and Vaughan, Ontario.

The company said it had “deep concerns” regarding the safety of its employees, the public, and the protestors.

“In Vaughan, protesters put their personal safety at risk by climbing on and between railcars,” CN chief executive and president Jean-Jacques Ruest said.

“The protesters trespassed on active railway tracks and on active trains to hang their banners and take photos of themselves.

“Trespassing on railway property and tampering with railway equipment is not only illegal, but also exceedingly dangerous.”

According to multiple reports, blockades have not been placed directly on rail lines across the country, but are so close to them that safe rail passage by trains is not possible.

Featured image: Union Station, Toronto (iStock.com/BalkansCat)

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