CN Rail: ‘significant’ parts of Canadian rail network will close if blockades remain

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

CN has halted more than 150 freight trains since Thursday evening, when demonstrators set up blockades in British Columbia and Ontario in solidarity with opponents of the Coastal GasLink pipeline project that crosses the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in northwestern British Columbia.

Via Rail said 157 passenger trains have also been cancelled, affecting 24,500 travellers on routes between Montreal and Toronto and Ottawa and Toronto.

The ongoing blockades sit near Belleville, Ont., and New Hazleton in BC’s northern interior while other demonstrations cropped up Tuesday in locations ranging from the Halifax port to the BC legislature.

Industry groups are also expressing concern about the shutdown as shipments to and from the US and China are delayed or cancelled.

“It’s real crisis,” said Joel Neuheimer, head of international trade with the Forest Products Association of Canada.

Wood, pulp and paper producers have lost tens of millions of dollars so far, he said.

“We ship massive amounts of pulp to the United States and to places like Asia, so big negative impacts there,” Neuheimer said in a phone interview.

“We have members whose customers aren’t placing orders right now in the US because they know that it’s not going to get there as soon as it needs to get there.”

The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters association is urging government officials to work with police to restore rail service.

“In Canada there’s not really other alternatives to move stuff around. The highways and trucks are already at a very, very high utilization of available capacity, especially in Quebec and southern Ontario,” association president Dennis Darby said in a phone interview.

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau says he is working with the railways and his Ontario counterpart Caroline Mulroney to find a solution, and that blockage of tracks is “dangerous and illegal.”

Ontario Provincial Police say officers are in talks with protesters behind a blockade that sits metres from the tracks, though not across them.

OPP spokesman Bill Dickson said an officer of the court read an injunction to the protesters this morning ordering them to abandon the blockade near Belleville.

Dickson says that while CN obtained the injunction on Friday, today marked the first time it was read aloud in accordance with court procedure.