Anti-pipeline protests force Toronto travellers to consider alternate routes

More travel headaches may be on the itinerary for thousands of people trying to get in and out of the Greater Toronto Area in the next few days due to ongoing protests near Belleville, Ont.

Family Day long weekend is coming up along with reading week at many universities and it’s not clear when the rail lines may be clear for travel.

Sebastien Short is a student at the University of Toronto and said he was planning to take the train to visit family in Ottawa. 

“I’m already thinking of other options. Bus I guess. That’s how it is,” Short said. 

VIA Rail trains stopped running between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal Thursday after anti-pipeline protesters blocked the tracks. As of Wednesday evening, VIA Rail said it was forced to cancel even more trips between the three cities until the end of Friday.

The protests, in support of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, come after six people were arrested near a worksite in northern British Columbia where the RCMP had recently enforced an injunction against the Nation’s hereditary chiefs and their supporters.

At issue is the $6.6-billion Coastal GasLinkpipeline, which will deliver natural gas from the Dawson Creek area to a facility near Kitimat, B.C. The company behind Coastal GasLink has signed agreements with 20 elected First Nation councils along its 670-kilometre path with the exception of the Wet'suwet'en who say the project has no authority without their consent.

“Although we remain hopeful that a resolution to the ongoing blockades will be reached, in view of the current uncertainty, VIA Rail is cancelling all departures,’” A VIA Rail spokesperson told CTV News Toronto in an email.

“We encourage passengers travelling in the affected areas over the next two days to use alternative modes of transportation.”

Wilfrid Laurier Univeristy student Helen Breen said she has also been impacted by the protests. She said she left for Ottawa Wednesday, but hasn’t yet booked a return ticket.

“I guess the buses will be pretty busy there. Definitely going to be a struggle,” Breen said.

VIA Rail is providing full automatic refunds for train cancellations which the company said could take up to 10 days to process due to the volume of affected trips.

The Canadian National Railway is also impacted by the protests and has been granted an injunction to remove the protesters from the tracks. CN Rail said it is working with local police enforce the motion.

As a result of the blockade, some bus and flight operators say they are seeing an increase in traffic. 

Megabus operates the Toronto, Kingston, Montreal routes and said it’s experiencing an influx of passengers in recent days.

“We are constantly monitoring our passenger demand and adding additional services as necessary,” spokesperson Sean Hughes told CTV News Toronto.

In fact, the buses along the route are sold out until 12:30 a.m. Thursday.

Porter Airlines is also seeing an increase.

Porter told CTV News Toronto Wednesday that it generally has the capacity to accept new bookings, but some flights are already full for the long weekend.

“Additional flights are not being added,” a spokesperson said in an email.