Rail blockades causing containers to pile up at Canadian ports

A rail blockade in eastern Ontario is jamming up Canada’s three biggest ports, prompting some shippers to take their business elsewhere as cargo piles up and paycheques for those working on the docks shrink.

Now in its 16th day, the protest along Canadian National Railway tracks east of Belleville, Ont., has halted CN’s eastern network — about one-quarter of its operations — and choked shipments from coast to coast.

Atlantic Container Line, a major U.S. shipping line, is steering clear of the Port of Halifax in favour of U.S. harbours. Chief executive Andrew Abbott says the company, which typically berths two ships a week, is now docking in New York and Baltimore to run cargo inland on U.S. railroads.

“It’s just stupid,” Abbott told the CBC on Thursday. “The whole Canadian transportation system has been put into disarray.”

Businesses have a backlog of products, but are holding off passing on the cost to consumers — for now. 1:57

Halifax Port Authority spokesperson Lane Farguson says stevedores are working but earning less, as more than 60 per cent of freight that passes through the port is bound for trains that can no longer be loaded.

In Montreal, some 4,000 containers sit immobilized on the docks and Prairie bulk products like grain can no longer reach the port. Meanwhile, the lineup of ships in Vancouver has more than doubled to 50 due to the clogged transportation system.

“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,” the port told CBC News in a statement.

CN took the drastic step of closing its eastern network eight days ago after protesters set up a blockade in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory on Feb. 6 in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose a natural gas pipeline slated to pass through their traditional lands in British Columbia.

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