Via Rail forced to cancel 25 trains on Christmas Day

Passengers scrambled to make alternate transportation plans when 25 Via trains scheduled to depart on Christmas were cancelled after a CN wagon derailed near Grafton, Ont., blocking trains passing through Kingston.

Via had announced Saturday night that all trains between Toronto and Ottawa and between Toronto and Montreal would be cancelled the next day.

On Sunday, Via said trains on those routes would also be cancelled on Monday, and passengers would receive a full refund.

Canadian National told the Star that 14 rail cars derailed Saturday in Grafton, east of Cobourg, shortly after 11 a.m.

Cleanup operations remained underway over the weekend while CN investigated the cause of the derailment. No injuries were reported.

Nine Via Rail trains between Ontario and Quebec had also been stuck for hours on Friday as a snowstorm swept through the region. Hundreds of passengers were stranded overnight before eventually reaching their destinations Saturday.

Passengers aboard Train 55, from Ottawa to Toronto, said it stopped seven hours after departing from the nation’s capital when a tree fell on it.

“A four-hour trip is now 18 hours long,” rider Lucy Ellis, who was stranded in Cobourg, told the Star just before 11 a.m. on Saturday.

“All of us are just very tired. I slept on the floor for an hour. Frustration is just growing.”

Emergency services boarded the train at 10:30 p.m. and provided water and food, she said. But those supplies ran out and the toilets had stopped working.

Ellis posted a picture on Twitter of the tree that immobilized Train 55, whose passengers said a second train came to their rescue just before 11:15 a.m. Saturday.

Firefighters assisted passengers in moving over to the new train and resuming the trip to Toronto. “It has been a whirlwind, just a little bit surreal,” Ellis said.

Meaghan Wray left Union Station on Friday afternoon, expecting to get to Ottawa shortly before 11 p.m. Twenty hours after departing, she was still on board the train, halfway to her destination, at midday Saturday.

The 31-year-old freelance writer told the Star her train stopped for three hours after the weather reduced the available tracks to just one set. Resuming its journey, the train then stopped several more times to thaw a switch on the railway, perform engine repairs twice and defrost the track, she said.

“This has been horrible and so traumatic that I have cancelled my trip to Vancouver next week because I can’t fathom having to travel more after this,” Wray said.

“Via staff on board have done their best, but we’ve run out of food and water. The washrooms no longer work. People are hungry,” she added.

Wray said passengers remained calm and in good spirits, despite a lack of communication from Via Rail, fuelling concerns among riders and those awaiting them.

“We have no idea when this will end or if we will get more food or water. It’s traumatizing for us and our loved ones waiting,” she added.

Via Rail told the Star power outages and fallen trees were responsible for halted operations.

Some passengers said on social media Saturday that they were stuck on board for more than 18 hours without food or water. Chaotic scenes unfolded: some reported seeing people jumping off the trains into the snow, a move strongly discouraged by authorities on board, given the weather conditions.

In an email to the Star, Via Rail said it “deeply regrets the stress this has caused our passengers.” The agency also said affected passengers would receive a refund and a travel credit.

Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra went on Twitter on Saturday to call the situation with Via Rail “unacceptable,” as many passengers reported massive delays and cancelled trips due to the storm.

Alghabra says his office was in touch with Via Rail in hopes of resolving issues “safely and efficiently.”

With files from The Canadian Press

Ana Pereira is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @anabpereiraa


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