Via Rail service between Toronto, Montreal cancelled until Thursday due to pipeline protest

Click to play video: 'Wet’suwet’en rail blockades ‘illegal,’ but it’s up to provinces to act: Garneau'
Wet’suwet’en rail blockades ‘illegal,’ but it’s up to provinces to act: Garneau
WATCH: Transportation Minister Marc Garneau said Tuesday that the government is “concerned” about what he said were illegal blockades of Canada’s rail network by Wet’suwet’en protesters – Feb 11, 2020

The Canadian National Railway says it will be forced to close “significant” parts of its national network unless blockades impeding its rail lines are removed.

Via Rail has also announced they will be cancelling all trips on the Montreal-Toronto and Toronto-Ottawa routes in both directions until end of day Thursday.

Due to “heavy rail congestion” that has built up on both sides of the blockade in Tyendinaga Township Ont., Via says if the line is cleared, it will take over a day to get rail traffic back to normal.

“Via Rail is working with the infrastructure owner (CN) on the specifics of the resumption of service, which is estimated to take at least 36 hours from the time the line is cleared.”

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Click to play video: 'Protests growing across Canada against B.C. pipeline'
Protests growing across Canada against B.C. pipeline

This is the first time since the closure near Belleville, Ont., that Via has cancelled trips so far in advance, and laid out a timeline for how long it may take for service to return to its normal schedule.

A second blockade continues near New Hazelton B.C., which has halted rail service from Prince Rupert and Prince George in both directions since Saturday.

Neither Via nor CN responded immediately when asked if any action was planned to move in and remove the protesters stationed at the rail crossing in Tyendinaga.

In a statement sent Tuesday afternoon, CN said the blockades in Ontario and British Columbia are “impacting all Canadians’ ability to move goods and enable trade.”

Click to play video: 'Dashcam captures heated moment at pipeline protest'
Dashcam captures heated moment at pipeline protest

“Hundreds of trains have been cancelled since the blockades began five days ago. The impact is being felt beyond Canada’s borders and is harming the country’s reputation as a stable and viable supply chain partner.”

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Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau called the blockades “illegal,” saying they infringe on the Railway Safety Act.

“We are concerned because this has an effect on the transportation of goods by train across the country and those trains in some cases are not being able to operate as they normally do because of the blockades,” he said Tuesday afternoon.

“Having said that, when injunctions are obtained by the train companies, it is up to the provinces. They are the ones who have the jurisdiction to act.”

If CN Rail halts service in key corridors, it says it could impact shipments of food and consumer items, grain, construction materials, propane and other commodities.

“We are currently parking trains across our network, but due to limited available space for such, CN will have no choice but to temporarily discontinue service in key corridors unless the blockades come to an end,” CN Rail’s president JJ Ruest said in a statement.

“Factories and mines will be soon faced with very difficult decisions.”

Via Rail service between Montreal and Toronto and between Ottawa and Toronto was once again cancelled on Tuesday, marking the sixth consecutive day of service disruption since protesters began blocking a rail line near Belleville, Ont.

On its website, the company said none of its trains will operate until a blockade at a level rail crossing in Tyendinaga Township is resolved. A small group of protesters have blocked the rail line in support of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, whose members are protesting the Coastal GasLink pipeline project in northern British Columbia.

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In an email to Global News on Tuesday morning, a Via Rail spokesperson said that as of 8 a.m., 157 trains had been cancelled since the beginning of the blockade on Thursday night, impacting at least 24,500 passengers.

Similar rail line blockades are taking place in Montreal and New Hazelton, B.C.

The protests are in response to an injunction the RCMP has received to remove demonstrators from a blockade at the pipeline construction site on Wet’suwet’en territory in B.C. So far, 21 people have been arrested.

OPP said Monday that they are in contact with demonstrators in Tyendinaga and that CN Rail police, who have jurisdiction over the rail lines, have received an injunction to remove protesters from there as well.

A video on social media appears to show protesters in Tyendinaga burning the injunction.

In an email to Global News on Tuesday morning, the OPP said CN Rail police and the courts are responsible for handling the injunction. Communications officer Bill Dickson said OPP are aware of the video but “cannot speculate on any charges.”

“Our provincial liaison team continues to talk with participants in an effort to resolve the situation in a safe and peaceful manner,” he said.

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Facebook user Kanenhariyo Seth LeFort posted video footage of the blockade in Tyendinaga on Monday morning that showed trucks parked on either side of the rail line.

Via Rail says its services continue to operate between Ottawa and Montreal, between Montreal and Quebec City and west of Toronto in southwestern Ontario. The company says customers will receive refunds for the service disruption.

Meanwhile, Greyhound Canada said it has increased bus trips along its routes in response to the blockade in Tyendinaga Township.

“We continue to add three to four schedules a day as needed to meet demand. We’ve seen a strong increase in ridership since this protest started. We will continue to add capacity to help people get moving,” a company spokesperson said in a statement.

“We have a peak travel weekend coming with Family Day this coming Monday and the beginning of university reading week break. We will have plenty of extra buses this weekend and encourage people to book early online.”

*With files from Global News

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