CN/VIA: Protests Blockade Mainline Chokepoint

"Sympathy" Protesters Shut Down East-West Mainline Rail Traffic in Support of Native Faction's Fight Against British Columbia Gas Pipeline Construction.

11 February, Belleville ON — Canadian National Railway (CN) President and CEO JJ Ruest announced the railroad may be forced to shut down significant parts of its Canadian rail network, unless protest blockades in Belleville ON are removed. Since its emplacement on Thursday 06.February, the blockade has practically severed traffic CN freight and VIA Rail passenger service east of Toronto. The CN Kingston Subdivision track is CN’s only main line linking Eastern Canada with western Canada, and eastern Canada with the US Midwest.

The blockade is one of a growing number of active protests against the Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline project in British Columbia.

CN says more than 150 freight trains have been halted; VIA Rail says 157 passenger trains have also been cancelled, affecting 24,500 travelers on routes between Montreal and Toronto and Ottawa and Toronto. {The Canadian Press via 660 News, 11.Feb}

CN CEO JJ Ruest said “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.”

Belleville ON

Protest blockade of Canadian National’s mainline has been in place since Thursday 06.February, and has blocked dozens of freight and VIA passenger trains. Protesters are one group among many across Canada acting in sympathy for first nations protesters opposing a gas pipeline project in British Columbia. The Belleville blockaders are not protesting CN or VIA, but engaging in a general and widespread campaign of disruption to register opposition to the Coastal GasLink pipeline {Alex Filipe, Reuters}.

Caught in the crossfire

The Belleville blockade is a show of solidarity for the Wet’suwet’en Nation. Supporters of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who oppose the CGL, have set up protests across Canada. The blockade is unrelated to any CN activity, and is also wreaking havoc on VIA Rail’s passenger operations.

Scrambling for detours

CN is looking at opportunities to reroute traffic where possible in the interim, however limited options exist and customers using CN for rail shipping and receiving will be impacted by the blockades and the effective backlog being created. CP’s Belleville Subdivision also runs through Belleville, barely 2.0 km north of CN, but may have little capacity to absorb rerouted CN traffic.

Some CN traffic is already being detoured between Toronto and Montreal. The long northern detour runs 1287 km (800 mi) over multiple secondary and lower speed lines, compared to the 536 km (333 mi) direct high-speed Kingston run. The normal route for traffic between Toronto and Montreal on the Kingston Subdivision is a high-speed run on 333 miles of mainline track.

Late breaking detour news

Since the original blockades, additional First Nation tribes have shown solidarity by establishing blockades of other rail lines running through or close to First Nation lands.  

 Kahnawake Mohawks say they will continue to block Canadian Pacific Railway at Adirondack Junction, on land that runs through the Mohawk community on Montreal’s South Shore. This blockage threatens to affect traffic to and from Albany and Saratoga Springs, NY, the Central Maine & Quebec Railway. All train service, including commuter trains on Exo’s Candiac line, is closed for an indefinite period.

 In northeastern Quebec, members of the Listuguj Mi’kmaq community began blockading the shortline Gaspe Railway Listuguj, Quebec, on Monday afternoon. This blockade is less impactful as Gaspe Railway runs a single train on the line each day (sources yet to be confirmed – Ed.) } .

Toronto ON – Montreal QC

North detour route with greatest capacity runs far north over secondary lines with multiple interchange points:
1. Toronto ON – North Bay, 364 km (226 mi) via CN Newmarket Subdivision
2. NB – Englehart, 222 km (138 mi) via Ontario Northland Railway (ONT) Temagami Subd’n
3. Englehart – Swastika, 42 km (26 mi) via ONT Ramore Subdivision
4. Swastika ON – Rouyn-Noranda QC, 96 km (60 mi) via ONT’s Kirkland Lake Subdivision
5. Rouyn-Noranda – Senneterre, 163 km (101 mi) via CN Val D’Or Subdivision
6. Senneterre – Fitzpatrick, 414 km (267 mi) via CN St-Maurice Subdivision
7. Fitzpatrick- Ste-Foy (Quebec City), 201 km (125 mi) cia CN La Tuque Subdivision
8. Ste-Foy – Charney, 10 km (6 mi) via CN Bridge Subdivision
9. Charney – Ste-Hyacinthe, 193 km (120 mi) via CN Drummondville Subdivision
10. St. Hyacinthe – Montreal, 121 km (75 mi) via CN Ste. Hyacinthe Subdivision
South detour route runs down CN’s recently acquired (from CSX) St. Lawrence Subdivision (“Massina line”), then via CSX to Buffalo. This route was utilized on 11. February. Additional southern detours via the United States may be employed, including use of NS at Huntingdon QC.
{OpenRailwayMap, annotated by ANRP}.

CEO Ruest summed up, “[producers] will soon be faced with very difficult decisions. The Port of Prince Rupert is effectively already shut down. The Ports of Montreal and Halifax are also already feeling the impact of these blockades which will have a trickledown effect on consumer goods in the next few weeks.”

Transport Minister Marc Garneau called the blockades “dangerous” and “illegal.”

What is this pipeline protest all about?

Protest opposition to the CGL got serious on 07.Jan.2019, when Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested 14 people for obstructing pipeline construction on a forest service road near Houston BC. The RCMP was enforcing a court injunction to clear the way for construction. The arrests sparked rallies across the country.

Dawson Creek – Kitimat BC

Progress on the Coastal GasLink pipeline is underway through some of the most rugged country in northwest Canada {}.

After failing over the course of the past year to negotiate an agreement between the CGL and the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, a new injunction was handed down mandating the RCMP to again clear interlopers from the construction route. On Wednesday 05.February, six people were arrested in BC, and more in the days that followed. The arrests sparked new protests across the country, including blocking train routes in Quebec and Ontario. Vancouver police say 33 people were arrested on Monday 10.February at the Port of Vancouver and DeltaPort container terminal entrances. {The Canadian Press via 660 News, 10.Feb}

Hazmat order was already causing big problems

On top of the blockades, CN had on Monday 10.February placed what they called an embargo on hazardous material tank car shipments, following a Transport Canada Ministerial Order to immediately slow down trains carrying dangerous loads across Canada. The order came on the heels of two Canadian Pacific crude oil unit train derailments in Saskatchewan.

The Ministerial Order under the Railway Safety Act, requires the slowdown of key trains (which contain 20 or more cars carrying dangerous goods). In metropolitan areas, these trains will be limited to 20 mph. Outside these areas, trains will be limited to 25 mph.

The Order went into effect at midnight on Friday, February 7th, and will remain effective for 30 days. It may be altered at any time based on new information [citation}.

In response, CN imposed what they termed an “embargo” on hazardous material shipments that included everything from crude oil, ethanol, LPG and inhalation hazard tanks. A notice that was sent to customers on Monday indicated that the railroad would continue to move these commodities but manage the flow through a permit process from the company’s centralized operations center.

The railroad said it was taking the move to “protect network fluidity.” CN is essentially complying with the order by making sure that hazmat shipments are still moving, albeit not more than 20 cars in a single train, rather spreading out the shipments and perhaps more days of shipping than more cars in a single train.

Key northeast commodities in stock

With large supplies of LPG on hand, Northeast homeowners should not be impacted by the shipping slow down. One NECR source says that there are more than 100-125 LPG cars staged at St. Albans, and similar stocks on Maine railroads. CSX and NS also provide adequate alternative routing for New England-bound fuels and other hazmat cargoes.