TORONTO (AP) — Canadian National Railway Co. said Tuesday it will be forced to close significant parts of its Canadian network unless protest blockades impeding its rail lines are removed.
CN said more than 150 freight trains have been halted 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 travelers on routes between Montreal and Toronto and Ottawa and Toronto. Later Tuesday, Via Rail cancelled service until the end of the day Thursday on the Montreal-Toronto and Ottawa-Toronto routes because of the blockade near Belleville, Ontario.
Hundreds blocked the entrances to the British Columbia legislature. One protester, Shaylynn Sampson, said demonstrators plan to remain outside the legislature until the province agrees to pressure the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and a natural gas company to withdraw from Wet'suwet'en traditional territories.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he is concerned the blockades are a "dress rehearsal" for opposition to future energy projects.
Industry groups are also expressing concern about the shutdown, with the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters association urging government officials to work with police to restore rail service.
"It’s a 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.
CN chief executive JJ Ruest stressed the limited parking space in its network, with traffic backed up from Halifax to Windsor, Ontario, and in parts of British Columbia approaching Prince Rupert.
"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," Ruest said in a statement.
Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau said he is working with the railways and his Ontario counterpart, Caroline Mulroney, to find a solution. He called the blockage of tracks “dangerous and illegal.”