Via Rail, GO Transit warn of service disruptions as CP Rail strike looms

By The Canadian Press

Via Rail and Metrolinx are warning passengers of delays and possible cancellations as Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. and two of its unions negotiate ahead of a midnight deadline to settle contract issues.

Union and company sources said Friday morning that marathon contract talks are continuing but no progress can be reported as yet.

“Negotiations are ongoing, it’s around-the-clock bargaining here, and we’re working hard to try to reach a negotiated settlement to try to avoid a strike,” said Christopher Monette, spokesman for the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference.

On Wednesday, the Teamsters, which represent over 3,000 CP Rail conductors and engineers, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, with about 365 signal and communications workers, gave the railroad 72-hour notice of strike action.

Via Rail Canada warned passengers Friday it may have to cancel morning trains on Saturday and Sunday between Sudbury and White River, Ont., if the labour dispute results in a shutdown of CP Rail services.

“VIA Rail is following the negotiations closely and is currently analyzing the scenarios and potential effects of the work stoppage on its operations in order to minimize the impact on its passenger services, should it occur,” it said in a statement, adding it is in contact with customers who have reservations on affected trains.

Metrolinx said there could be delays for customers on its Milton and Barrie lines if CP Rail managers filling in for union workers are unable to address signal or switch issues on CP Rail-owned portions of the corridors.

It added CP also owns a section of corridor leading into the Hamilton GO Centre and train service to and from this station would not be provided, although regular GO bus service would continue and extra buses would be put into service.

“While Metrolinx is hopeful that an agreement can be reached, we are doing everything we can to ensure customers can continue to travel safely,” it stated.

VIA Rail and Metrolinx advised customers to check their websites for updates.

Canadian Pacific says it is preparing with its customers for a possible strike by executing a “safe and structured shutdown of its train operations in Canada” to take effect as of midnight on Friday.

In a post on its website on Friday, CEO Bob Masterson of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada said a disruption will interrupt about $20 million worth of daily shipments by his member companies.

He added that switching cargo to Canada’s other major railroad, Canadian National Railway Ltd., isn’t an option even if access to CN lines are possible because his members have been “told clearly that CN’s network is not in a position to take on extra capacity.”

CN spokesman Patrick Waldron said the railway, which was criticized for failing to meet service demand over the winter, is closely watching the situation at CP Rail.

“Our first priority is to protect service levels with our existing, valued CN customers and to ensure the fluidity of our network,” he said in an email.

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