Canada's biggest railway could shut parts of network because of pipeline protests

(Reuters) - Canadian National Railway Co, the country’s biggest rail road, said on Tuesday it would be forced to shut down parts of its network unless rail line blockades in protest against a natural gas pipeline in British Columbia are removed.

FILE PHOTO: First Nations members of the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory block train tracks servicing Via Rail, as part of a protest against British Columbia's Coastal GasLink pipeline, in Belleville, Ontario, Canada February 8, 2020. REUTERS/Alex Filipe/File Photo

The protests of recent weeks are seen as a flashpoint for indigenous rights and reconciliation and demonstrators on Tuesday also blocked the entrance to the British Columbia provincial legislature.

Anti-pipeline protesters near tracks in Ontario, Canada’s most populated province, have disrupted passenger trains and goods transportation for the fifth straight day. Hundreds of trains were affected as was the movement of perishable food, propane, grain, feedstocks and coal, the railway said. The ports of Prince Rupert, Montreal and Halifax were also disrupted.

The blockade near a rail connecting Toronto to Ottawa and Montreal began on Thursday as indigenous rights people protest in support of Wet’suwet’en First Nations opposition to the proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline in British Columbia. The blocked rail line is owned by Canadian National Railway (CN).

“Factories and mines will be soon faced with very difficult decisions,” said CN President and CEO JJ Ruest.

Ruest said the blockades will have a “trickle down effect” on consumer goods in the next few weeks. The railway transports more than C$250 billion ($188.2 billion) worth of goods annually, according to the company. The impact is being felt beyond Canada’s borders, CN said.

The C$6.6 billion ($4.97 billion) pipeline, to be operated by TC Energy Corp is set to move natural gas from northeastern British Columbia to the Pacific Coast, where the Royal Dutch Shell-led LNG Canada export facility is under construction. In December, private equity firm KKR & Co Inc and Alberta Investment Management Corp agreed to buy a 65% stake in Coastal GasLink Pipeline.

Coastal GasLink said on Tuesday that construction of the pipeline in northern British Columbia is expected to resume this week. Members of the Wet’suwet’en community would be “heavily involved” in construction programs as the project progresses, Coastal GasLink said.

The protests have disrupted 157 trains and at least 24,500 passengers since they started, operator VIA Rail said.

“We hope this will get resolved because it has an important impact to the economy of the country,” Canadian Minister of Transport Marc Garneau told reporters on Tuesday.

CN has obtained court injunctions for its Ontario and British Columbia locations and is working with police to enforce them, said Ruest.

Service along a Montreal public transport system was also interrupted by protesters in Kahnawake territory blocking the commuter railway, which is owned by Canadian Pacific Railway, affecting about 18 trains and 6,000 passengers.

Canadian Pacific did not comment on whether any transportation of goods was disrupted.

Reporting by Denise Paglinawan and Ankit Ajmera; writing by Denny Thomas; Editing by Shailesh Kuber and Grant McCool