HALIFAX – Rail service in Eastern Canada has screeched to a halt as First Nations demonstrators refuse to dismantle blockades that are keeping many of the country’s trains from moving.
CN Rail announced Thursday evening it was stopping all of its trans-continental trains in Eastern Canada. Meanwhile, Via Rail has shut down its passenger service across most of the country.
In a statement, CN said it has begun a “disciplined and progressive shutdown” of its Eastern Canadian operation, as demonstrators in Ontario continue to ignore a court order demanding they leave.
According to a CBC report, CN has temporarily laid off seven people in Moncton and three in Halifax.
The blockade is maintained largely by members of the Tyendinaga Mohawk community, near Belleville, Ont. It’s part of a nationwide protest in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who have been demonstrating against the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline in British Columbia.
JJ Ruest, the president and chief executive officer at CN, said in a statement last night that shutting down trains is the safest option since court orders in Ontario aren’t being enforced.
“With over 400 trains cancelled during the last week and new protests that emerged at strategic locations on our mainline, we have decided that a progressive shutdown of our Eastern Canadian operations is the responsible approach to take for the safety of our employees and the protestors,” he said.
“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.”
Propane shortage looms in wake of shutdown
Ian Wilson, the president of Halifax’s Wilson Fuels, says the rail shutdown could very quickly lead to propane shortages in the region.
He said most of the propane coming into the Maritimes arrives by rail. His company receives about three railcar shipments a week, but “now we’re at zero”
“We certainly depend on a reliable rail network to make propane deliveries, and when they stop in the middle of winter, when demand is at its highest, it’s a problem,” he said.
He said most companies plan to deal with brief, unexpected disruptions to rail service, but that any extended stoppage will be a big problem.
Without new shipments, he said, his company can cushion the blow for a while by adjusting the amount of propane they put into people’s tanks and eventually prioritizing certain customers.
He also said a small amount of propane can be shipped into the region by truck, but that that will only ever be “a fraction” of what is needed.
He said he is “befuddled, frustrated, and angry” with the demonstrators for potentially putting people in danger during the cold Canadian winter.
“Sometimes people think this is a worthwhile endeavor, it’s a protest, and if causes people some inconvenience well then that’s the price to bring attention to this matter,” he said. “But this is not an inconvenience. It’s public safety. In the Canadian winter, this isn’t being uncomfortable, this is freezing.”
Delays, stoppages at ports
Maritime ports are also feeling the impact of the empty tracks.
Paula Copeland, the director of communications at Port Saint John, says the Barrack Point Potash Terminal has seen “a complete stoppage of export cargo flow” as a result of the CN shutdown.
The Rodney Container Terminal, meanwhile, is seeing “minor delays” in rail service, with some cargo sitting idle for longer.
At the Halifax Port Authority, Media Relations Manager Lane Farguson says the terminals are running normally, but that things will get worse the longer the trains stay idle.
Halifax is a rail-based port, where more than 60 percent its cargo is moved by train.
With no trains running, export cargo can’t come in, and import cargo is stuck taking up space on the docks, something Farguson says is a real blow to our reputation as an efficient and reliable gateway port.”
He says the port will be able to manage for a while, but that “the longer this goes the more challenging this situation becomes.”