OTTAWA, Ontario — The Canadian government has shut down Canadian National and Canadian Pacific operations through the area hit by a wildfire that devastated the town of Lytton, British Columbia.
An order issued by Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra, effective as of 12:01 a.m. PDT today, required both railroads to halt train movements except for emergency fire response, and for repair work on CN’s Ashcroft subdivision and CP’s Thompson Subdivision. The railroads use paired trackage through the Thompson and Fraser River canyons; CP had resumed operations on its line but as of Thursday, CN had no estimate when its line would reopen [see “Canadian National main line remains closed …,” Trains News Wire, July 8, 2021].
“The Government of Canada is committed to supporting those affected by the devastating wildfires in British Columbia,” Alghabra said in a press release. “This Ministerial Order is being put in place in the interest of safe railway operations and to protect residents who are temporarily returning to inspect their homes as safely as possible.”
A local First Nations leader said earlier this week that rail operations should remain halted through the area because of “tinder-dry” conditions, and that the resumption of train movements was causing anxiety for residents.
Chief Matt Pasco of the Nlaka’parnux Nation Tribal Council told the Canadian Press that he and the council would take action to halt the trains, saying, “we take the safety of our people very seriously. I’ve reached out to others to stand with us and do right, and I suspect that sound minds will prevail. … I will use our jurisdiction to do what’s necessary to save our people and make sure they’re out of harm’s way.”
Canada’s Minister of Indigenous Services, Marc Miller, appeared to be recognizing these concerns in a comment on the order halting rail service, saying, “At this critical juncture, it is imperative that we all listen to the voices of Indigenous leaders and engage meaningfully on a path forward that respects their needs and priorities, while ensuring rail safety and security.”