Blockades set up by pipeline protesters have forced Canadian National Railway Co. to shut down its entire network in Eastern Canada and Via Rail to cancel passenger service across the country.
CN said Thursday that the company must initiate a “disciplined and progressive” shutdown in the East and stop and safely secure all transcontinental trains across its Canadian network.
Via Rail said it has no other option but to cancel all service on CN track in Canada. There were no more departures as of 4 p.m. eastern and all trains en route were brought to the closest major train station.
“We understand the impact this unfortunate situation has on our passengers and regret the significant inconvenience this is causing to their travel plans,” Via said in a news release.
Protesters across Canada say they’re acting in solidarity with those opposed to the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, which would cross the traditional territories of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in northern B.C.
CN said its shutdown may lead to temporary layoffs for eastern Canadian staff.
It has sought and obtained court orders and requested the assistance of enforcement agencies for blockades in three provinces, but while blockades have been dismantled in Manitoba and may be ending imminently in B.C., a court order in Ontario has yet to be enforced.
More than 400 trains have been cancelled over the last week, said JJ Ruest, CN’s president and chief executive officer, in a news release.
“This situation is regrettable for its impact on the economy and on our railroaders as these protests are unrelated to CN’s activities, and beyond our control. Our shutdown will be progressive and methodical to ensure that we are well set up for recovery, which will come when the illegal blockades end completely.”
He said while Via service will be discontinued across CN’s network, commuter rail services such as Metrolinx and Exo can keep operating as long as they do so safely.
Railway shippers called on the prime minister to “act decisively” to prevent a complete shutdown of Canada’s rail system.
Delays caused by the blockades will have immediate, unintended consequences for farmers across the country, said Grain Growers of Canada chairman Jeff Nielsen.
“We are an industry that relies on export markets in order to survive and thrive. Without access to these markets via rail, we risk compounding further losses on top of what has already been a harvest from hell,” he said in a news release.
Canada’s forest products sector is responsible for 10 per cent of total tonnage moved along the country’s railway lines.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The blockades began last week after RCMP enforced an injunction against Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their supporters, who were blocking construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, a key part of the $40-billion LNG Canada export project.
Coastal GasLink has signed agreements with all 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route. However, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs assert title to a 22,000-square-kilometre area and say band councils only have authority over reserve lands.
The Canadian Press