TORONTO, Ont. – The partial shutdown of one of the country’s biggest railway freight networks could lead to a surge in demand for trucking services, according to the Retail Council of Canada.
CN Rail has halted services across Eastern Canada and laid off 450 employees due to blockades by indigenous protesters.
As the suspension of services continues, trucks could soon be transporting a larger share of goods from manufacturing facilities to stores or distribution centers directly, said RCC spokesman Karl Littler.
But Littler is also skeptical whether the trucking industry can meet such a sharp spike in demand because of various rules governing the service, and the rampant driver shortage.
“While it is beneficial for the trucking industry, I am not sure whether there will be enough supply,” he told Today’s Trucking.
The rail disruption began early last week when people protesting against a planned gas pipeline in B.C. set up blockades at Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Belleville, Ont., and in New Hazelton, B.C.
The protest has since spread to other areas, and cross-border bridges are also being targeted.
CN Rail, which operates 30,000 kilometres of rail across Canada and the U.S., has said shipments of food, coal and propane have been affected by the blockades.
Among fleets preparing for increased demand is Bison Transport.
“As you can imagine, we are very busy trying to service the needs of our customers as well as those who are switching from rail to road as a result of the blockades,” said Norm Sneyd, vice-president of business development at Bison.
“We are working very closely with shippers, in order to get their product to market. However, it has put added stress on our network and we are doing everything in our power to meet the needs of the market.”
At a carrier warehouse in Quebec, employees were reporting a shortage of containers and chassis as well, hitting shipments of perishable goods.
Some shippers who have been depending on CN Rail to move freight are already turning to trucks to deliver their goods.
“This is where you realize that the truck can always save the day because of its flexibility and its ability to respond quickly to needs,” said Marc Cadieux, CEO of Quebec Trucking Association.
On Wednesday, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) issued an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau voicing deep concern about the blockades.
“CFIB urges the federal government to work with the provinces and with law enforcement agencies to ensure rail service is immediately resumed,” it said.
“Canada’s reputation as a dependable place to do business is at stake if a speedy resolution is not reached.”
The call came a day after Trudeau asked Canadians to be patient as his government seeks a negotiated end to the blockades.
CN Rail has called the disruption the largest in its modern history.
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