Canadian rail line blockades ‘need to come down now,’ Trudeau says

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Canada's House of Commons

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for an immediate end to the rail blockades that have caused serious disruptions to the country’s supply chains for more than two weeks, calling them “unacceptable and untenable.”

“The barricades need to come down now,” Trudeau told reporters during a news conference on Friday.

Trudeau said his government had exhausted all efforts to bring a negotiated end to the protests opposing a gas pipeline’s proposed path through indigenous territory and that the economic costs to Canada had become too high.

“We cannot continue to watch as Canadians suffer shortages and layoffs,” Trudeau said.

The prime minister did not specifically call for any actions to bring down the barricades, calling them a matter for law enforcement, but said injunctions against them “must be obeyed and the law must be upheld.”

“How they do that and when they do that is their responsibility,” Trudeau said. 

The barricades, in place for more than two weeks, have brought rail freight to a standstill in key economic corridors. Canadian National shut down its Eastern Canada network in response to the blockades.

The resulting disruptions to the supply chain are continuing to worsen, particularly in eastern Canada, as ships divert from the Port of Halifax and trucking companies contend with a drop in intermodal volumes with an upstick in truckload freight.

At least one shipping line has begun diverting vessels from the port, where officials fear that a prolonged rail stoppage could steer business away for good.

“We need those trains to start moving again,” said Lane Farguson, a spokesperson for the Port of Halifax, where 60% of cargo volumes are tied to the rails.

For trucking, carriers are beginning to report an upsurge in volume as shippers seek to move rail and intermodal loads over the road.

The uptick is helping Classic Freight in Halifax make up for some of the losses from the drop-off in intermodal business. 

“It’s good for a short time. We’ll be as productive as we can with the additional freight to do everything we can do to offset what we’re losing,” General Manager Todd Seward told FreightWaves.

Seward said as of Friday the carrier and its 85 power units were fully booked up servicing freight throughout the country, with rates spiking above C$3 per mile — the highest since the strike by CN rail workers in November.

Steve Laskowski, president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, told FreightWaves that any temporary uptick in truckload freight is a drop in the bucket compared to the ultimate harm the blockades will cause the industry.

“Make no mistake, this is very bad for the trucking industry,” Laskowski said.