Cancelled rail arrivals and departures are listed on the board at Central Station in Montreal, Friday, Feb. 14, 2020. Most Via Rail announced temporary layoffs Wednesday, Feb. 19.
Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press
Via Rail says it will issue temporary layoff notices to 1,000 employees as the suspension of most passenger rail services continues amid protests that have halted train traffic in much of Canada.
This general interruption is an unprecedented situation in our 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, said Cynthia Garneau, Vias chief executive officer. Since the beginning of the crisis, we have been closely working with the infrastructure owner in order to formulate a progressive, safe and orderly resumption plan. 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. I would like to thank all our union partners for their collaboration and comprehension.
Canadian National Railway Co. on Tuesday laid off 450 workers, days after suspending operations on its eastern Canadian network, which has been blocked for two weeks amid a dispute over a natural gas pipeline in B.C.
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Via, which pays CN to use its tracks, suspended service across Canada on Thursday, with the exception of two lines in northern Ontario and Manitoba it leases from other railways. Via said it plans to resume service to southwestern Ontario from Toronto, and between Ottawa and Quebec City on Thursday.
Despite these latest developments, however, until CN Rail opens the remaining tracks for service, Via Rail has no choice but to continue the cancellation of its services on a large part of its network, Via said on Wednesday afternoon. Therefore, it is with sincere regret that we must proceed with temporary employee suspensions.
Protesters opposed to the Coastal GasLink development have shut down parts of the rail network for two weeks. Canadian business leaders have warned repeatedly in the past week about looming factory shut-downs and shortages due to stalled rail traffic and clogged ports. The chemical, manufacturing and food industries have been particularly vocal.
So far the railways have born the brunt of announced layoffs.
On Wednesday, independent grocers called on first ministers to convene and find a way to end the blockade. Gary Sands, vice president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, said some stores are reporting shortages while others are expecting shortages very soon.
The premiers were planning a conference call Wednesday to address the railway blockades.
More to come.
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With files from Les Perreaux
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