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Published: Friday, 7/24/2009

Strike halts Canada's Via national rail service


TORONTO The majority of Canada's national passenger rail service across Canada effectively shut down on Friday after locomotive engineers at Via Rail Canada went on strike.

Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, the union representing 340 engineers, said workers walked off the job after contract talks failed.

The union said it has been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2006.

The strike comes during one of the busiest travel periods of the year, disrupting summer vacation plans and hurting Canadian tourism operators already suffering amid the economic downturn.

Every week, Via operates 503 intercity, transcontinental and regional trains linking 450 communities across its 7,767-mile route network. It carries nearly 12,000 passengers a day.

Teamsters spokesman Stephane Lacroix said the union received no response to a final offer tabled earlier this week so workers followed through on a promise to trigger a national rail strike.

Via said the contract negotiations reached an impasse Friday despite four days of intense negotiations.

Lacroix said both sides remain far apart from reaching a contract and expects this strike could be lengthy, but the union remains open to talking with Via.

Via had already canceled some departures this week in anticipation of a walkout and the rail company said it would have to cancel all rail service across the country without the engineers on the job.

Alternate transportation was provided where possible at stations for passengers scheduled to depart before noon Eastern time Friday.

Via said after the noon hour, no alternate transportation would be provided. The lone exception was for passengers traveling from Jasper, British Columbia to Vancouver, British Columbia.

The railway last faced a strike in 1995, when conductors from a different union went on strike for a week.

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