Via Rail says service could take days to resume if blockades lift
TORONTO -- Via Rail’s cancelled train services could take as long as 36 hours to resume when the Wet'suwet'en solidarity blockades are lifted, and delays could be forcing people to look at alternative forms of transportation.
“Via Rail is working with the infrastructure owner on the specifics of the resumption of service which is estimated to take at least 36 hours from the time the line is cleared,” the company said in a statement on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Via Rail announced it was cancelling all train service from Toronto-Montreal and Toronto-Ottawa until Thursday, due to an ongoing blockade just east of Belleville, Ont.
Protesters have disrupted travel across much of the country for several days in a show of solidarity for the Wet'suwet'en Nation, whose hereditary chiefs oppose the construction of a 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline through northern British Columbia. Blockades around the country have now halted railway service for five days.
- What you need to know about the Wet'suwet'en protests
- More from CTV News Vancouver: Elected vs. hereditary chiefs: What's the difference in Indigenous communities?
In Senegal, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was receiving information on the situation, which he called an “issue of concern, obviously.” He added he’d be speaking with his other cabinet ministers about it as well.
"We recognize the important democratic right — and we will always defend it — of peaceful protests,” he said. “This is an important part of our democracy in Canada, but we are also a country of the rule of law and we need to make sure those laws are respected.
“That's why I am encouraging all parties to dialogue to resolve this as quickly as possible," Trudeau added.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau echoed Trudeau’s words, saying, “we are very concerned with the impact the blockages are having on the movement of goods across the country.” He added the government was “working across a number of departments to find a solution to this issue.”
On Tuesday, he had called the blockades "dangerous" and "illegal."
Via Rail stated that, by Thursday, 223 trains will have been cancelled affecting at least 34, 200 passengers.
VIA RAIL URGES PEOPLE TO SEEK OTHER TRANSPORTATION
“We know that this unfortunate situation has an impact on our passengers travelling plans and we apologize for the inconvenience it is causing,” Via said. “We encourage them, if they need to travel in the affected areas over the next 2 days, to use alternative modes of transportation.
CTV News Toronto reported that the blockades could be forcing people in the Greater Toronto Area to rely on buses to get from Toronto to Montreal or Ottawa.
Porter Airlines told CTV News Toronto planes headed to affected cities are currently booked up this long weekend. But generally, they have enough capacity to take passengers there and back.
CTV News Toronto has reached out to Greyhound Lines, Inc. to see if and how the train disruptions have affected them and whether they’ve seen a recent increase in the number of passengers.
'WAITING GAME' BETWEEN PROTESTERS, OPP
Beginning last week, RCMP clashed with Wet’suwet’en land defenders after officers began to move into Wet’suwet’en territory to enforce a court-ordered injunction requiring protesters to stop blocking roads.
In Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, within Hastings County, Ont., CTV News’ parliamentary bureau reporter Annie Bergeron-Oliver told CTV News Channel on Wednesday, it was just a “waiting game” as to whether the Ontario Provincial Police would break up the blockade or not.
On Tuesday, the OPP called the situation “dire” and said they had to enforce the court order to end the blockade so that passenger and freight trains could resume normal service. Officers have asked protesters to peacefully disperse but they have not budged.
Bergeron-Oliver also clarified that the protesters were situated close enough to the train tracks that Via Rail felt it wasn’t safe enough to run trains through the area.
The company also added that, “since the blockade continues near New Hazelton, B.C., normal rail activities are interrupted between Prince Rupert-Prince George, in both directions until further notice.”
Via Rail also mentioned it was providing full refunds for passengers’ cancelled trips, which could take up to 10 days to complete due to the volume of requests.
Service from Toronto to Southwestern Ontario, between Montréal-Ottawa and Montréal-Québec is unaffected, Via Rail said.
But Via Rail isn’t the only company facing disruptions. On Tuesday, Canadian National Railway Co. announced it “will be forced to shut down significant parts" of its network until the blockades are removed.
Railway disruptions across the country could lead to holdups in the transportation of products such as foods, propane, Canadian grain, coal, potash, lumber and aluminum. And although rail transportation only accounted for 0.5 per cent of Canada’s GDP, disruptions such as blockades or worker strikes greatly affect the bottom line of companies that rely on it.
With files from CTVNews.ca writers Graham Slaughter and Alexandra Mae Jones