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VIA Rail

roger1818

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Ottawa didn’t have the freight demand to continue to justify a high level of service (decline of lumber, pulp and paper businesses) and western Canada —> Montreal demand is far less than when the lines were put in. CN and CP removed almost 60 million tonnes of grain from the prairies this year. In its heyday most of that grain would go to Montreal by train to be loaded in ships. Last year it was less than 1 million tonnes. The Seaway took a whole lot of that demand which is bound for the Atlantic basin - 7.9 million tonnes from Thunder Bay, with about 6.7 million tonnes on Sea going lakers.

Interesting! If CP and CN transport significantly less freight from western Canada to the coast, where does most of the freight along the lakeshore come from today? Is it mostly from Southern Ontario and midwestern US?
 

micheal_can

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Ottawa didn’t have the freight demand to continue to justify a high level of service (decline of lumber, pulp and paper businesses) and western Canada —> Montreal demand is far less than when the lines were put in. CN and CP removed almost 60 million tonnes of grain from the prairies this year. In its heyday most of that grain would go to Montreal by train to be loaded in ships. Last year it was less than 1 million tonnes. The Seaway took a whole lot of that demand which is bound for the Atlantic basin - 7.9 million tonnes from Thunder Bay, with about 6.7 million tonnes on Sea going lakers.

And yeah, redundancies, resiliency, the cost is worth it for high probability events. A few days every decade isn’t a huge deal imo. A few days a month I think we’d think differently. But in that case I’d bet there’d be enough organization to block every possible route.

I am also thinking of everything that has to go to Toronto to then go on the Lakeshore to get to Montreal. If we were to split all the traffic at Sudbury/Capreol for destinations Toronto and Montreal, I'd bet there is plenty for both to run regular trains both ways.

Actually, if you go back to the 70's, CN had two lines through the Ottawa Valley (the OAPS, inherited from the Grand Trunk Railway and the other, built by the Canadian Northern Railway). In 1983, CN abandoned the former OAPS line between Renfrew and Whitney. There is an excellent online publication of the history of the railways in Eastern Ontario with maps by Brian Gilhuly, called Tracing the Lines. My only wish is it extended a bit further east (the maps end around Barry's Bay). Interestingly, the peak seems to have been between 1923 and 1953.

I do have some sympathy for this sentiment though. Operating independently it didn't make financial sense for either CN or CP maintain both their corridors through the Ottawa Valley, and their corridors along the lakeshore. Given the choice to keep just one, the lakeshore wins hands down. However, if the railways were required to work more cooperatively and do even more track sharing than they currently do, sharing a corridor along the lakeshore and a corridor through the Ottawa Valley might be a financially viable option. Even if this had happened, there would still be issues between Ottawa/Smiths Falls and Montreal if your objective is to give VIA dedicated track on all sides of the TOM triangle while still maintaining freight capacity. No point crying over spilt milk though.

This brings me back to the thinking that all lines should be owned by the government. Thi would mean that there most likely would still be at least 1 line through the Ottawa Valley. The issue is that both look at working together on each other lines as an only if needed. That is why some lines are directional, even when each is owned by a separate carrier.
 

jayme2016

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Before Covid there was 9 trains each way Ottawa to Toronto for a total of 18 per day Toronto to Montreal was less i think it was around 14 total.
 

roger1818

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Before Covid there was 9 trains each way Ottawa to Toronto for a total of 18 per day Toronto to Montreal was less i think it was around 14 total.

It was actually 10 trains each way between Ottawa and Toronto for a total of 20 per day. Between Montreal and Toronto was 6 each way, (train 51 was via Ottawa and it arrived in Toronto after the later departing train 61 so it doesn't really count) for a total of 12 per day. There was also 1 train each way between Kingston and Toronto for a total of 2 per day.

On top of that, trains 60 and 62 to Montreal ran split service with trains 50 and 52 to Ottawa, so in reality there was a total of 32 trains per day along the Lakeshore (17 westbound and 15 eastbound).
 

lenaitch

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Basically, the ONR crew were there because they know the track and their radios can talk with the rest of the ONR. Physically driving the train were CN crews.

AFAIK, they blocked both at the same area.



The ones I am suggesting are the ones through the Ottawa Valley. The fact that both CN and CP had lines through there and now, they can easily be crippled by one blockade. Who would think that's a good idea?

I think we are saying the same thing. Who has the actual hands on the controls in situations such as these is something I don't know.

I am also thinking of everything that has to go to Toronto to then go on the Lakeshore to get to Montreal. If we were to split all the traffic at Sudbury/Capreol for destinations Toronto and Montreal, I'd bet there is plenty for both to run regular trains both ways.

There any number of places where both lines, current and former, are within yelling distance of each other and which could have been easily blocked by a single event: Thunder Bay (current); North Bay, OVR/former CP and former CN from almost W. Nipissing to the south end of the city; several points along the CN Bala and CP Mactier/Sudbury subs.

The majority of traffic on the CP Ottawa Valley route (OVR) in later years was CP bridge traffic. They decided, based on their bottom line, which corporations get to do, that they had the capacity to run them via Toronto. I believe there were efforts to negotiating directional running in the Valley but they weren't successful.

Can anybody give me an example where a corporation, meaning non-public, for-profit entity, is forced by regulation and without compensation, to maintain service and infrastructure where it is otherwise not required? South of Wasago, CN had two lines that went from the same A to the same B, just by different routes. Should they have been ordered to maintain both?

This brings me back to the thinking that all lines should be owned by the government. This would mean that there most likely would still be at least 1 line through the Ottawa Valley. The issue is that both look at working together on each other lines as an only if needed. That is why some lines are directional, even when each is owned by a separate carrier.

If that is the basis of your argument, you could have saved a lot of posts by laying it out earlier. Perhaps you did and I missed it.

If the government did find a pile-o-dough to buy up all the trackage, I don't see how that guarantees the corporations that would pay to run on them would necessarily use all of them the way you envision. If I have to pay a fee to use a line, and determine I can do all my business on one, why would I pay to use two? Or would the government direct operations as well; i.e. nationalization?
 

dowlingm

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The ones I am suggesting are the ones through the Ottawa Valley. The fact that both CN and CP had lines through there and now, they can easily be crippled by one blockade. Who would think that's a good idea?
There are other ways that the freight companies could (and probably more cheaply) make blockades of their lines less frequent, other than "have another route and hope nearby FNs don't block that in solidarity". The purely technical approach would be to grade separate the most frequently blocked corridors - a lot of money spent and likely more resentment purchased. Another might be to build financial and employment relationships in First Nations, in a way which also manages the historical realities of the impact railroads had on FNs, which make them partners such that it would not be in the economic interest of the FNs to impede traffic. Instead, at present, the railway companies choose not to take any of the available options, but rather take the occasional financial hit.

In respect of returning rail to the Ottawa Valley, my view on the restoration is that it would necessarily be linked to the establishment of commuter rail service between Pembroke and the greater Ottawa area, to close a significant part of the gap and then work on incremental expansion to Petawawa/Chalk River, by which time a restored freight flow or flows could help move the dial more than the thinner population further up river. At that point the question would become whether the remaining gap to Mattawa was bridgeable.

The government of Ontario could do that using either of its two mainline railway operations (there are various infrastructure / operations ways this could be done; I would lean to having ONR rather than Metrolinx handle infrastructure to increase their economies of scale and their greater familiarity with rural operations, and VIA to operate the rolling stock into their station. While commuter rail into Ottawa has had little traction over the years, not least in the decisions by the municipalities and province not to retain the CP route as an active line, it feels like the wind may be beginning to shift, especially given the opportunities for increased throughput that the current works to separate Ellwood Diamond can provide with incremental investment. It would also require the government of Ontario to agree a long term financial partnership agreement with VIA and the feds rather than go off on its own tangent like SWO HSR, one of the most stupid and counterproductive moves I have seen since moving to this country. I wish I could believe that Queens Park learned anything from that fiasco.
 

roger1818

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I am also thinking of everything that has to go to Toronto to then go on the Lakeshore to get to Montreal. If we were to split all the traffic at Sudbury/Capreol for destinations Toronto and Montreal, I'd bet there is plenty for both to run regular trains both ways.

It really depends what percentage of the freight along the lakeshore is via Sudbury/Capreol.

This brings me back to the thinking that all lines should be owned by the government. Thi would mean that there most likely would still be at least 1 line through the Ottawa Valley. The issue is that both look at working together on each other lines as an only if needed. That is why some lines are directional, even when each is owned by a separate carrier.

You do realize that CN was owned by the government when they abandoned the former OAPS line between Renfrew and Whitney don't you?
 

lenaitch

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Have to temper the want for industrial spurs everywhere and lines serving them (the old way) with trucks for much regional in Canada freight movement with the adoption of time value of money approach and just in time delivery to inventory management by customers. Freight rail might be cheaper even from one industrial spur to the other, but if it takes 10x as long, the direct cost is not the only cost to the freight user. We’re bemoaning infrastructure loss here, but really we’re bemoaning the loss of another world which doesn’t exist anymore.

If I understand the argument correctly, and there is an even chance I do not so apologies in advance, do you propose to remove on-route freight revenue customers so servicing them doesn't interfere with passenger movement? Industries choose their mode of supply and distribution based on several factors and, in some cases, road is simply not practical.

Just-in-time delivery is a major cause of the commercial truck traffic that clogs the 401, started primarily by the auto industry and copied by many. They essentially foisted their warehousing onto the public highways. A train could provide a week's worth of engines, frames or left front fenders, but they would have to warehouse them until needed. Now, a fleet of trucks parades down the highway to deliver parts that end up in a finished product probably by the end of that day. If rail traffic gets really clogged up on the LSW, do we simply shut down Ford Oakville?

If passenger rail traffic is improved by driving industry out of Ontario, then it could be consider a win by some, but a very Pyrrhic one.
 

lenaitch

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There are other ways that the freight companies could (and probably more cheaply) make blockades of their lines less frequent, other than "have another route and hope nearby FNs don't block that in solidarity". The purely technical approach would be to grade separate the most frequently blocked corridors - a lot of money spent and likely more resentment purchased. Another might be to build financial and employment relationships in First Nations, in a way which also manages the historical realities of the impact railroads had on FNs, which make them partners such that it would not be in the economic interest of the FNs to impede traffic. Instead, at present, the railway companies choose not to take any of the available options, but rather take the occasional financial hit.

In respect of returning rail to the Ottawa Valley, my view on the restoration is that it would necessarily be linked to the establishment of commuter rail service between Pembroke and the greater Ottawa area, to close a significant part of the gap and then work on incremental expansion to Petawawa/Chalk River, by which time a restored freight flow or flows could help move the dial more than the thinner population further up river. At that point the question would become whether the remaining gap to Mattawa was bridgeable.

The government of Ontario could do that using either of its two mainline railway operations (there are various infrastructure / operations ways this could be done; I would lean to having ONR rather than Metrolinx handle infrastructure to increase their economies of scale and their greater familiarity with rural operations, and VIA to operate the rolling stock into their station. While commuter rail into Ottawa has had little traction over the years, not least in the decisions by the municipalities and province not to retain the CP route as an active line, it feels like the wind may be beginning to shift, especially given the opportunities for increased throughput that the current works to separate Ellwood Diamond can provide with incremental investment. It would also require the government of Ontario to agree a long term financial partnership agreement with VIA and the feds rather than go off on its own tangent like SWO HSR, one of the most stupid and counterproductive moves I have seen since moving to this country. I wish I could believe that Queens Park learned anything from that fiasco.

Blockading of rail lines by FNs assumes their angst is against the railway; which it is not (or wasn't for the most recent event). It is (was) done to make a visible point. At Desoronto, they could have just as easily moved up the road and blocked the 401. There are (or were) fairly regular, relatively short-term 'informational' blockades of Hwy 17 in the Espanola area, plus the ongoing events in Caledonia (I don't know if the rail line there is currently in play - I don't follow).

As for the Ottawa Valley, I suppose I'd have to be convinced there is a market for commuter type rail as far as Pembroke. I quite frankly don't know the commute patterns out there. Folks are moving out to Carleton Place and Arnprior (literally on the border of Ottawa) and perhaps Renfrew, but Pembroke is 150km up the road. Our S-in-L is from there and I don't get the sense that a lot of folks do the commute. Could be wrong.
 

roger1818

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As for the Ottawa Valley, I suppose I'd have to be convinced there is a market for commuter type rail as far as Pembroke. I quite frankly don't know the commute patterns out there. Folks are moving out to Carleton Place and Arnprior (literally on the border of Ottawa) and perhaps Renfrew, but Pembroke is 150km up the road. Our S-in-L is from there and I don't get the sense that a lot of folks do the commute. Could be wrong.

I totally agree. Here are the population of the major towns on the way. Larger than I expected, but still hardly throbbing metropolises. I am also not sure how many people in those towns actually commute to Ottawa, or would building such a service be encouraging needless sprawl?

TownPopulation
(2016)
Driving Distance to Ottawa Station (km)
Petawawa17,187166
Pembroke13,882149
Renfrew8,22396.1
Arnprior8,79568.6

To build such a route, the Renfrew and Beachburg Subs would have to be upgraded (it is mostly Class 1&2 track) and extended to connect to CPR's abandoned valley line (the abandoned parts of the Renfrew sub have largely been built over). This wouldn't be all that hard to do, but the whole project wouldn't be cheap either.

The other big problem with commuter rail in Ottawa is that Ottawa no longer has a downtown train station. This means that almost everyone will have to transfer to the O-Train, with most of them traveling in the same direction as all the other commuters. With a downtown station, at least those who do have to transfer will be traveling contraflow. While it is theoretically possible to revive Ottawa's old Union Station, it would be expensive (and difficult) to do so, and without a huge demand from commuter rail, it wouldn't be worth the expense, especially considering VIA wouldn't likely want to use it, since it would be a detour from their existing route.

If Commuter rail were to come to Ottawa, it would probably start, after HFR is complete, with service from Perth to the two Ottawa stations via Smiths Falls and Richmond. Here is a similar chart for that route. The populations are lower, but the distances are shorter and high quality track would already there so a pilot project could be started rather inexpensively.

TownPopulation
(2016)
Driving Distance to Ottawa Station (km)
Perth5,93087.6
Smiths Falls8,78078.7 (only 66 km by train)
Richmond4,48237.1
 

Darwinkgo

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If I understand the argument correctly, and there is an even chance I do not so apologies in advance, do you propose to remove on-route freight revenue customers so servicing them doesn't interfere with passenger movement? Industries choose their mode of supply and distribution based on several factors and, in some cases, road is simply not practical.

Just-in-time delivery is a major cause of the commercial truck traffic that clogs the 401, started primarily by the auto industry and copied by many. They essentially foisted their warehousing onto the public highways. A train could provide a week's worth of engines, frames or left front fenders, but they would have to warehouse them until needed. Now, a fleet of trucks parades down the highway to deliver parts that end up in a finished product probably by the end of that day. If rail traffic gets really clogged up on the LSW, do we simply shut down Ford Oakville?

If passenger rail traffic is improved by driving industry out of Ontario, then it could be consider a win by some, but a very Pyrrhic one.
No. What I am saying is the freight market changed significantly, and the railway industry adapted in response, and corridors that could be justified through a combination of long distance commodity transport, and service to local industry, just ended. For Ottawa valley service in particular, long haul commodity freight from the west was significantly diminished for deliveries to Montreal. Smaller volume commodity freight from local producers dried up. Production supply chain shifted mostly to trucks for reasons that left freight non-competitive. The shift to super distribution centres for economy of scale grew distribution centres and moved them to where service is optimized for their catchment rather than smaller ones for each population centre. All of these combined reduced demand on certain lines, and passenger service from Ottawa to North Bay and Sudbury just didn't justify maintaining that infrastructure.

The end result is that more freight is being moved than ever, but the patterns of movement only support certain corridors, and there were only a handful of corridors which were abandoned which parralell those corridors which should possibly be restored/maintained. And since those corridors are so busy, there isn't capacity to move passenger rail at useful speeds (the corridor), and in some places, move passenger rail nearly at all (the mountains).
 

crs1026

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Those interested in debating the history of the Ottawa Valley lines might be interested in this decision by the CTA with respect to a proposed joint operation by CN/CP from North Bay to Coteau, using (among other lines) the Alexandria Sub, which VIA occupies.

The proposal was also written up in Branchline magazine, page 17, with reference to the Ottawa Journal also.

It happens that at the moment I'm doing some work to scan some old rail enthusiast periodicals. I came across a shot from the 1960's of CP's Dominion, detouring through Brent on CN because of a derailment on the CP line. Yep, back then the detour needed its own backup routing. ironical.

- paul
 

lenaitch

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I totally agree. Here are the population of the major towns on the way. Larger than I expected, but still hardly throbbing metropolises. I am also not sure how many people in those towns actually commute to Ottawa, or would building such a service be encouraging needless sprawl?

TownPopulation
(2016)
Driving Distance to Ottawa Station (km)
Petawawa17,187166
Pembroke13,882149
Renfrew8,22396.1
Arnprior8,79568.6

To build such a route, the Renfrew and Beachburg Subs would have to be upgraded (it is mostly Class 1&2 track) and extended to connect to CPR's abandoned valley line (the abandoned parts of the Renfrew sub have largely been built over). This wouldn't be all that hard to do, but the whole project wouldn't be cheap either.

The other big problem with commuter rail in Ottawa is that Ottawa no longer has a downtown train station. This means that almost everyone will have to transfer to the O-Train, with most of them traveling in the same direction as all the other commuters. With a downtown station, at least those who do have to transfer will be traveling contraflow. While it is theoretically possible to revive Ottawa's old Union Station, it would be expensive (and difficult) to do so, and without a huge demand from commuter rail, it wouldn't be worth the expense, especially considering VIA wouldn't likely want to use it, since it would be a detour from their existing route.

If Commuter rail were to come to Ottawa, it would probably start, after HFR is complete, with service from Perth to the two Ottawa stations via Smiths Falls and Richmond. Here is a similar chart for that route. The populations are lower, but the distances are shorter and high quality track would already there so a pilot project could be started rather inexpensively.

TownPopulation
(2016)
Driving Distance to Ottawa Station (km)
Perth5,93087.6
Smiths Falls8,78078.7 (only 66 km by train)
Richmond4,48237.1

Much would depend on an analysis of commute pattern, if there in fact is much, from these communities as well as Carleton Place. If they are to the tech hub (and now NDHQ) in Kanata/west end, it is closer, but I still can't see many people schlepping down from Pembroke/Petawawa on a daily basis.

As far as I know, the Beachburg sub is torn up west of the junction with the line to Renfrew. Another complicating feature for use of the Beachburg ROW is it would have to be federally regulated since it hops into Quebec.
 

micheal_can

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If that is the basis of your argument, you could have saved a lot of posts by laying it out earlier. Perhaps you did and I missed it.

If the government did find a pile-o-dough to buy up all the trackage, I don't see how that guarantees the corporations that would pay to run on them would necessarily use all of them the way you envision. If I have to pay a fee to use a line, and determine I can do all my business on one, why would I pay to use two? Or would the government direct operations as well; i.e. nationalization?

I may not have said it before on this forum. I do think that in the last few decades, CN and CP have been doing things only in the pursuit of higher profits. Yes, they are private corporations. Let's say that coal power plant that is regulated to put out a certain level of emissions. decides that that limit is hurting their bottom line? Should they just ignore it? No, what they will do is make it so that what they are doing becomes acceptable. Tearing up rail lines is the same idea. I had heard that OVR wanted to buy one of the lines between Mattawa and Ottawa. They were told No, as it would cut into the major carrier's bottom line for a shorter and faster connection between the west and Montreal.

The current system does not work well for all Canadians. Maybe it is time to start doing something to make it better instead of just reactivating a winding ROW that was abandoned in thee 1980s.

You do realize that CN was owned by the government when they abandoned the former OAPS line between Renfrew and Whitney don't you?

You mean the governments of the past are noble and wise?

If I understand the argument correctly, and there is an even chance I do not so apologies in advance, do you propose to remove on-route freight revenue customers so servicing them doesn't interfere with passenger movement? Industries choose their mode of supply and distribution based on several factors and, in some cases, road is simply not practical.

Just-in-time delivery is a major cause of the commercial truck traffic that clogs the 401, started primarily by the auto industry and copied by many. They essentially foisted their warehousing onto the public highways. A train could provide a week's worth of engines, frames or left front fenders, but they would have to warehouse them until needed. Now, a fleet of trucks parades down the highway to deliver parts that end up in a finished product probably by the end of that day. If rail traffic gets really clogged up on the LSW, do we simply shut down Ford Oakville?

If passenger rail traffic is improved by driving industry out of Ontario, then it could be consider a win by some, but a very Pyrrhic one.

There has to be a way to keep industry in Ontario, while increasing space for passenger trains. Maybe it is time to double track all mainlines.

Blockading of rail lines by FNs assumes their angst is against the railway; which it is not (or wasn't for the most recent event). It is (was) done to make a visible point. At Desoronto, they could have just as easily moved up the road and blocked the 401. There are (or were) fairly regular, relatively short-term 'informational' blockades of Hwy 17 in the Espanola area, plus the ongoing events in Caledonia (I don't know if the rail line there is currently in play - I don't follow).

As for the Ottawa Valley, I suppose I'd have to be convinced there is a market for commuter type rail as far as Pembroke. I quite frankly don't know the commute patterns out there. Folks are moving out to Carleton Place and Arnprior (literally on the border of Ottawa) and perhaps Renfrew, but Pembroke is 150km up the road. Our S-in-L is from there and I don't get the sense that a lot of folks do the commute. Could be wrong.

They did block the 401 at times.

Why does commuter rail have to exist to make a line needed?

It would be easier to build a larger yard in Northern ON to handle the marshaling needed to split trains going to Montreal and further east. Imagine building another MacMillan Yard in the GTA. Now, take the ones in Capreol, Sudbury and Cartier. They could be expanded, or, if needed, there could be a new yard built before the wye going south. In fact, there has been some plans to relocate the Sudbury CP Yard to allow the downtown to expand where the yard is.

If the government forced CN and CP to ensure Via, and all other passenger trains were kept on schedule, CN and CP would have to do something. This is where the lines in the Ottawa Valley become viable again.

No. What I am saying is the freight market changed significantly, and the railway industry adapted in response, and corridors that could be justified through a combination of long distance commodity transport, and service to local industry, just ended. For Ottawa valley service in particular, long haul commodity freight from the west was significantly diminished for deliveries to Montreal. Smaller volume commodity freight from local producers dried up. Production supply chain shifted mostly to trucks for reasons that left freight non-competitive. The shift to super distribution centres for economy of scale grew distribution centres and moved them to where service is optimized for their catchment rather than smaller ones for each population centre. All of these combined reduced demand on certain lines, and passenger service from Ottawa to North Bay and Sudbury just didn't justify maintaining that infrastructure.

The end result is that more freight is being moved than ever, but the patterns of movement only support certain corridors, and there were only a handful of corridors which were abandoned which parralell those corridors which should possibly be restored/maintained. And since those corridors are so busy, there isn't capacity to move passenger rail at useful speeds (the corridor), and in some places, move passenger rail nearly at all (the mountains).

One thing that really hurt the rail freight has been the race to the bottom with the various trucking companies. I have trucker friends who have been saying more companies are paying their drivers less per km than they did in the past. The problem also is, immigrants who need a job to support their family will work for those low wages, which only pushes the wages lower.

Sadly, as you dig to figure out why we are left in this mess, it seems that the race for more profit at all costs are the underlying reasons.
 

nfitz

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Blockading of rail lines by FNs assumes their angst is against the railway; which it is not (or wasn't for the most recent event). It is (was) done to make a visible point. At Desoronto, they could have just as easily moved up the road and blocked the 401. There are (or were) fairly regular, relatively short-term 'informational' blockades of Hwy 17 in the Espanola area, plus the ongoing events in Caledonia (I don't know if the rail line there is currently in play - I don't follow).
At Deseronto, they could have blocked the CP line as well, which also runs through the reserve. But they didn't.

The 401 is a legitimate target, as it's built on that unceded block of land that was part of their original treaty with the crown. It's been decades since the government accepted that - it's been the question of what to do about compensation that's plagued this since the 1990s (government wants to pay out in cash - but law says they have to offer land).

I can tell you, if I'd been waiting 30 years for someone to offer a legal settlement on land they never owned, and were squatting on, I'd have done more than blocking one railway.


They did block the 401 at times.
That's not even the same people, and was hundreds of miles away. That was in sympathy with the pipeline in BC. The protests at Tyendinaga date back years. If not to the mid-1800s. I'm not sure when after the 1796 treaty that the government resold the land that they never owned, removing the Mowhawks.

 
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