Rail blockade forces ACL to reroute shipments away from Halifax

Shipments destined for Nova Scotia will now be sent to ports in the United States as Atlantic Container Line has decided to no longer ship goods to the Port of Halifax while rail blockades are ongoing.

ACL CEO Andrew Abbott confirmed their intention to divert shipments away from Halifax Wednesday afternoon.

Abbott said it makes no sense to send goods to a port where they can’t be unloaded and moved by rail to their final destination.

The decision to reroute shipment comes after blockades were set up at rail lines across the country two weeks ago in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who are opposed to the construction of a massive natural gas pipeline in northwestern B.C.

The protests have emerged at rail lines in Ontario, Montreal and B.C., tangling a huge swath of the network.

Although ACL says they fully intend to resume shipments to Halifax when the railroads are no longer blocked by protesters, they say it’s not likely everything will immediately go back to normal.

“We go where our customers tell us to go,” Abbott said. “This has kind of gotten people bent out of shape a little bit and a lot of our individual customers may not want to come back for awhile.”

Those concerns are echoed by workers and officials in Halifax.

“We’ve worked very, very hard with the terminal operators and CN rail over the last number of years to establish Halifax as a reliable and efficient international gateway port,” explained Halifax Port Authority Communications Advisor Lane Farguson. “And the longer this carries on the more that reputation erodes.”

“The risk is that cargo will never come back to Halifax,” said Kevin Piper, local president of the International Longshoremen’s Association. “That’s always a risk when people start diverting cargo and that’s a huge concern for Halifax.”

Abbott said initially ACL was hoping for a speedy resolution to the conflict, but had no choice but to begin rerouting shipments when it became apparent there wasn’t a clear end in sight.

He says the effects of the shutdown will continue even after rail service has resumed.

“Even if this were to get resolved tomorrow it’s still going to take a week for them to get into the boxes for them to use,” he said. “This has hit the Canadian economy and innocent companies and individuals that have no role in this dispute.”

-With files from Global’s Rachel D’Amore. 

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