Canadian ports impacted by pipeline protesters blocking rail lines

A photograph of a train. There is snow on the ground.

The protests that have been blocking portions of the rail network in Canada are affecting port operations on both coasts.

Protesters in support of a First Nations’ group’s objections to the location of a proposed pipeline in British Columbia have been blocking portions of Canada’s rail network over the past week, causing Canadian National (NYSE: CNI)  to shut down its eastern operations and VIA Rail to cancel much of its passenger rail service. The blockades have also disrupted service on Canadian National’s (CN) western operations.

At the Port of Vancouver, offshore vessels are waiting to dock so they can unload their goods, according to port spokespeople. The blockades have also delayed the loading and unloading of cargo that occurs between ships and the railways.

“Our role as a port authority is to facilitate trade on behalf of Canada in a safe and efficient manner. Part of that role is to ensure there are an adequate number of safe anchorages in the region to accommodate vessel traffic,” said port spokesperson Danielle Jiang. 

“Due to the recent disruptions in rail operations and protest activity, the demand for anchorages is currently exceeding the availability, causing a backlog of ships waiting to get into port. During times of congestion, the port authority manages anchorages in a way to ensure continued fluidity for all ship types and ensure anchorages continue to be available for essential services,” she said.

Jiang confirmed a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation report that more than 40 ships are waiting to dock at the port, which has 60 anchorages available to ships. The anchorages are already occupied or have been assigned to ships expected to arrive in the next several days, according to the report.

In eastern Canada, the Port of Halifax warned shippers of operational changes related to the protesters’ blockade at CN’s rail network in Belleville, Ontario. The 11-day blockade there has forced CN to shut down its eastern operations and VIA Rail to cancel passenger rail service on all but two lines.

“The Halifax Port Authority is working closely with CN Rail and terminal operators PSA Halifax and Ceres-Halifax to minimize the impact of rail disruptions on Port of Halifax operations,” the port said in a Feb. 16 operations update. It added that Feb. 17 is a provincial holiday in Nova Scotia. 

“The Port of Halifax remains open. Vessels are able to berth alongside. Terminals are following normal operating hours, and scheduled truck gate times remain in place,” the port said.

Government officials continue to seek a peaceful solution with protesters. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cancelled his appearance at an intersessional meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, staying instead in Canada to convene a group to discuss the rail disruptions. 

The Prime Minister’s office said Monday that Trudeau has met with Ontario Premier Doug Ford to discuss the railway blockages. 

“The Prime Minister and the Premier also agreed on the importance of restoring operations on rail networks quickly, while ensuring that the situation is resolved in a peaceful manner and that dialogue can take place to address underlying issues,” Trudeau’s office said.

The office also said on Monday that Canada’s Minister of Indigenous Services, Marc Miller, met with members of the Mohawk Nation on Saturday to have an open dialogue about the current situation in Tyendinaga, a territory of the Mohawks First Nation that is near Belleville and Wet’suwet’en. The Hereditary Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en in British Columbia are the ones who disagree with the location of a Coastal GasLink’s proposed route for a fracked gas pipeline.