Montreal train passengers stranded after Via Rail cancels service nationwide due to blockades

·3 min read

François Laprade's 14-year-old son usually takes a train home to Montreal from Lakefield College in Peterborough, Ont., but on Thursday, he had to take a bus to Ottawa and catch a train from there.

Now even that circuitous route is no longer an option. No sooner did the teenager disembark than Laprade learned Via Rail has suspended all passenger train service nationwide.

Via Rail runs on CN tracks, and CN Rail, too, is shutting down huge sections of its railway networks.

The drastic measure is a result of First Nations blockades across Canada in support of the Wet'suwet'en people who are blocking road access to a construction site for the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northern B.C.

Where to next?

Outside Montreal Central Station Thursday, passengers walked away, dragging suitcases through the snow, looking at their phones, mulling over how they were going to get to whereever they needed to go.

Caroline Lefebvre, who had been on her way home to Ottawa when she learned her train was cancelled, was headed for a hotel.

"I tried to book a bus back home, but everything was full," she said. "Honestly, I have been travelling for years, so I am not nervous."

Marc Rodger was also stoic. He'd been looking forward to a family reunion in Ottawa and only found out when he arrived at the station that train service had been suspended.


"Sure, I'm inconvenienced by it, but I think the higher principle is important," Rodger said.

"People have a right to protest, and it's important that that right — which is part of our democracy — is maintained."

As for Laprade, he said he's not sure how his son is going to get back to his school in Peterborough next week.

"I think the government should do something," said Laprade. "If we ever try to block a road or something, it would never be tolerated. You would be in jail for it in 24 hours."

When it comes to First Nations protests, he said, "I don't know why the government never puts his pants on and acts."

Jean-Claude Taliana/Radio-Canada
Jean-Claude Taliana/Radio-Canada

'No other option,' Via Rail says

Given the protests, Via Rail says it has "no other option" but to shut down services nationwide due to the blockades. The company said it would automatically process full refunds for all cancelled trips.

Meanwhile, with CN's shutdown of the network, as many as 6,000 workers could be laid off.

Teamsters Canada, the country's largest union in the transportation sector, says it is calling on the federal government to find a solution.

In a statement, the union's president, François Laporte says, "these blockades are having a catastrophic impact on ordinary, working-class Canadians who have nothing to do with the Coastal Gaslink pipeline."

In Kahnawake, blockade remains up

On Montreal's South Shore, Kahnawake Mohawks continue to block the Canadian Pacific tracks in the same show of solidarity with protesters on traditional Wet'suwet'en land.

Kahnawake Grand Chief Joseph Tokwiro Norton said Wednesday that his council supports the right of people to express their displeasure with anything that is happening across the country, but "we would prefer it was done in an organized way."