Thursday, January 17, 2013

Rail Blockades by First Nations People

A movement called "Idle No More" has sprung up in Canada, with First Nations people demonstrating over a variety of concerns - land claims, environmental stewardship, and more. I'm not going to get into the politics of it. I am mentioning it because one of their tactics to attract attention has been to blockade rail and road routes. I am not listing every blockade, just the ones that interest me.

On December 27 protesters blockaded the rail line at Pointe-à-la-Croix ("Cross Point" in English) in Quebec. This is the line from Matapedia to Gaspé which is now owned by the Société des chemins de fer de la Gaspésie (SFG, aka the local municipalities). I believe that trapped the VIA train (formerly known as the Chaleur) on the Gaspé side, so passengers were bused along the route. I understand the protesters contacted CN in advance to warn them the track would be blockaded, unaware that CN no longer owned the line.

The blockade was lifted on January 3 after having little effect. I am guessing they didn't realize how little traffic is left on that line.

On January 11 "Idle No More" protesters blockaded the CN main line just east of Truro, Nova Scotia. VIA Rail ran the Ocean out of Halifax early before the blockade went into effect, and bused their passengers to Truro to board the train to continue west. I believe the blockade began at 2 PM local time and ended after several hours.

Portage la Prairie
On January 16 protesters from the American Indian Movement blocked the CN main line west of Portage-la-Prairie, Manitoba at the Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) crossing. A CN freight train was seen stopped near the crossing. They also stopped cars and trucks from using the crossing.

CN swiftly obtained a court injunction against all blockades in Manitoba, but local RCMP declined to enforce the injunction. The RCMP re-routed vehicle traffic around the area but of course they couldn't re-route the train. The blockade was supposed to last "72 hours" but was ended later that night.

I did not go out to Portage but I observed a couple of CN trains (401 and 197) stopped at Waverley Street in Winnipeg that evening, with CN 197 heading west around 8 PM. I expect many trains were staged waiting for the blockade to come down. I don't believe any trains were re-routed via the north line through Dauphin but I suppose they would have been, if the blockade had lasted longer.

Many other locations in Canada were blockaded on January 16.

I have no public comment on the movement. If you choose to comment, please be civil.

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