VIA Rail’s service across Canada was brought to a standstill due to the railway blockades in support of the Wet’suwet’en pipeline protest.
The blockades started on February 6 in response to an RCMP attempt to enforce a court injunction. The blockades popped up in numerous locations across the country. This forced the cancellation of numerous VIA Rail trains.
On February 11, CN announced that it was shutting down portions of its network due to the blockades. This likely allowed them to declare force majeure to suspend any contracted service, and also put pressure on all parties involved to resolve the issue.
This forced VIA Rail to cease operation. Both CN and VIA announced significant layoffs due to the termination of rail service.
Global News has a pretty comprehensive timeline up to February 24.
The Tyendinaga blockade was removed on February 24. VIA Rail began resuming service a few days afterward.
Back in Service
On March 4, VIA Rail announced that most of the 1,000 workers laid off will be called back to work. Services in the Ontario-Quebec Corridor were being brought on line. Most VIA trains across Canada will resume service by Saturday, March 7, with the exception of the “Rupert Rocket” (VIA 5/6) between Jasper and Prince Rupert and two trains in the Ontario/Quebec region that will resume on March 8.
VIA said on their Travel Advisory page that as of March 4, 1071 trains were cancelled because of the blockades, affecting more than 165,000 passengers.
That follows the announcement on March 3 that CN was recalling most of its 450 workers laid off when they “suspended” their eastern operations. I put “suspended” in quotes because, in reality, some trains were still running and some were detouring.
On Wednesday, March 4th, the eastbound “Canadian” (VIA 1) departed Toronto on its way to Vancouver. The westbound “Canadian” (VIA 2) is not due to leave Vancouver until March 6. However, the “other” VIA 2 was queued up to leave Winnipeg when I saw it in the evening of March 4.
The complete “Canadian” train set was idling in the station, facing east. It had three locomotives, a stainless steel consist (see below), with a Park car poking out the other side of the train shed.
This train was scheduled to depart at 23:30 and one could book tickets on the train. This is the regular scheduled time for VIA 2 to leave Winnipeg. Normally this would be the train from Vancouver that stops in Winnipeg for a few hours. Winnipeg has hosted a lot of VIA equipment since the Canadian ceased operation.
An Empty Station
When I visited the station at 6:30 PM, it was almost empty, with only a few people waiting on chairs and benches. One staffer was visible through an open door shredding ticket stubs.
There were certainly no preparations for boarding underway.
To be fair, departure time is 23:30 so I was visiting 5 hours before the departure time. There’s no need to have staff there so far before the departure time.
VIA Rail has a very handy diagram to show passengers what car they should board. The numbers in the yellow rectangles are “line numbers” and are shown on the cars by the doors. It is not the road name or number of the car itself.
According to the chart, the train has three locomotives (VIA 6438, VIA 6456, VIA 6449), a baggage car, one coach, a Skyline dome car, four Manor sleeping cars, another Skyline, a diner car, two more sleeper cars (Chateau cars – one Prestige and one deadhead for the crew) and finally a Park car. This is a pretty normal winter Canadian consist, except they usually don’t have three locomotives. Some of the pictures shown in the chart above do not match what the cars look like. Only a railfan would care.
I understand the train is no longer at the train station. It doesn’t show in VIA Rail’s tracker but perhaps it is not running as VIA 2.
It would be nice to have confirmation that it is in transit to Toronto.
Just One More Thing
I don’t pretend to know everything about the protests and the issues. I’ve been following the news pretty closely, as have many Canadians, and naturally the blockades are of particular interest to railfans.
As a straight white male, I know that I have the “easy button” in life, or as author John Scalzi calls it, the lowest difficulty setting there is.
I have no idea what it feels like to be a First Nations person in Canada. I do my best to listen and understand, but I know I will never completely understand life from a First Nations perspective. They have been through a lot (think residential schools and the Sixties Scoop, things I never heard about in school) and continue to suffer in many ways.
That’s why I have never written about this issue before. I’m only writing about it because it affects trains and has been a major issue in Canada for some time. I hope the dialogue can continue and lead to some real improvement for First Nations people and for Canada’s relationship with them.
I won’t tolerate any racist comments of any kind in this blog or anywhere else that I host. I’ve blocked several people on Facebook already and I won’t hesitate to do it again. Be respectful. Have some empathy. Be kind to one another. Thank you.