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Via Rail cancels service as engineers walk out

VANCOUVER - Passenger trains across the country are sitting idle after talks broke down between Via Rail and its engineers’ union.

“Despite intense negotiations over the past four days, the parties were unfortunately unable to reach an agreement, and the negotiations are currently at an impasse,” said Via in a written statement earlier this morning.

The 350 locomotive engineers and yardmasters have been without a collective agreement since December 31, 2006. A federal mediator had been appointed to help the parties with the contract negotiations.

The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference union gave Via a 72-hour notice of its intent to strike beginning today at noon EDT after receiving a 91.2 per-cent strike mandate from its members.

“Our members would prefer to resolve this through collective bargaining but we are increasingly frustrated by Via Rail’s tactics,” said union president Dan Shewchuk in a press release earlier this week.

Wages, benefits and employee scheduling are the key issues preventing an agreement, the union said.

Via began cancelling long-haul trips earlier this week in advance of a possible strike including the Vancouver-Toronto and Jasper-Prince Rupert routes. Now that the strike has begun, Via has cancelled all trains until a settlement is reached.

However, rail service on Vancouver Island between Victoria and Courtenay and Ontario's Sudbury-White River trains will continue to run, as they are operated by a third party on Via’s behalf.

Amtrak trains between Vancouver and Seattle are also expected to operate on regular schedules.

Garrett Zehr reports for The Tyee.

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