Via Rail Canada will temporary lay off approximately 1,000 employees as anti-pipeline blockades continue, bringing railway traffic across the country to a standstill.
Via Rail has had to cancel 532 trains as of Tuesday because of the disruption, which began earlier this month. Demonstrators have set up blockades in areas across the country 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 has received authorization from CN Rail, which operates the track Via uses, to resume partial service on some routes. It initially said it would resume partial service on Thursday between Quebec City-Montreal-Ottawa, but walked that decision back hours later due to a new blockade near St. Lambert, Que. As of Thursday evening, partial service between Montreal and Ottawa will resume, but service between Montreal and Quebec City will still be cancelled. Regular service in southwestern Ontario (Toronto-Sarnia-Windsor-London-Niagara Falls) will still begin Thursday.
Despite the partial return to service, the operator said it “has no choice” but to issue temporary employee suspensions.
Via Rail president and chief executive officer Cynthia Garneau said in a statement that the service disruption “is an unprecedented situation” in the company’s history.
“In 42 years of existence, it is the first time that VIA Rail, a public intercity passenger rail service, has to interrupt most of its services across the country,” Garneau said.
“We have done everything to mitigate the impact on our employees and our passengers. At this point, we believe we have made the fairest and most reasonable decision with the proposed temporary suspension plan.”
CN said Tuesday it would lay off about 450 workers in eastern Canada after cancelling more than 400 trains over the past week. The layoffs will affect operational staff, including employees working at Autoport in Eastern Passage, Moncton, Charny and Montreal.
Canadian industries have warned that companies will be forced to shut down operations if the blockades continue.
With files from the Canadian Press