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Blocked rail line forces layoffs

Daniel Nolan
Hamilton Spectator
CALEDONIA (May 12, 2006)

[SISIS note: The following mainstream news article is provided for reference only, as an example of how mainstream media treats indigenous resistance to genocide. Mainstream media often presents biased and distorted information, lacking pertinent facts and/or context. Inclusion of this article on our site should not be considered an endorsement by SISIS.]

The railway that operates the line between Caledonia and Nanticoke has laid off about 25 per cent of its workforce because its line is blocked by native protesters.

The Southern Ontario Railway, based in Hamilton, has laid off nine train engineers and conductors since the line was blocked by debris from a wooden pedestrian bridge burned down by protesters April 20 after a failed OPP raid to oust natives from a nearby housing site.

The railway's workforce is down to 34 and the firm's trainmaster Doug MacKenzie indicates there could be more layoffs. The line passes through Hagersville and Garnet before veering off into the Nanticoke industrial area and servicing such firms as Imperial Oil, the Nanticoke Generating Station and the Lake Erie Steel Co.

"We're trying to hang on as long as we can," MacKenzie said yesterday.

In 1997, when the firm leased the 92-kilometre Brantford-Nanticoke line from Canadian National under a 21-year deal, it carried 19,000 carloads per year.

The bridge, which once carried vehicle traffic, took Sterling Street over the rail line. The bridge lies in ruins across the tracks with police and protesters on either side of the divided road. The protesters are now in their third month of being at the Douglas Creek Estates, which they claim Six Nations never surrendered. Canada and Ontario say it was surrendered and sold in 1841 to help develop the Plank Road (Highway 6). Protesters moved onto the housing site a little over 10 weeks ago.

Talks are to resume today in Brantford between the Six Nations Confederacy and provincial appointee David Peterson on the possibility of lifting the blockade on the rail line, Argyle Street South and the Highway 6 bypass. It will also deal with other issues, such as whether to hire an archeologist to do a survey of the site to determine if there are native graves. The developers, Henco Industries, had a survey done and it found no evidence of burial grounds.

MacKenzie said the railway is still able to serve companies such as a kitty litter company in Caledonia because it is north of the blocked route. But, he described the impact as "significant" and admitted the firm would like to have the line reopened as soon as possible. It has 10 customers on the entire line.

He wouldn't discuss the railway's dealings with the province to try to get it back into operation. The railway also operates seven kilometres of tracks under a CN lease in Hamilton's industrial core. The lease for both lines provides for their operations to be returned to CN if Southern Ontario Railway runs into unforeseen financial problems. The company is owned by Florida-based RailAmerica.

Imperial Oil spokesman Robert Therberge said loss of rail service to its Nanticoke refinery has not had a major impact because the refinery has been shutdown for maintenance. He said it will restart full production in a week, but he still didn't expect the impact to be significant because Nanticoke has a pipeline, trucks and ships to move product. Nanticoke can refine 118,000 barrels of crude oil daily.

"We can take contingency plans and use other means and not be significantly affected by the railway," said Therberge. "The rail is nice because it's cheaper, but it's not essential ... At this stage, it's an inconvenience. It's not a showstopper."

John Earl, spokesman for Ontario Power Generation which operates the Nanticoke station, said loss of rail has had a minimal impact because it ships very little by train.

He said most of its material, such as coal, comes by ship.

"If it could come in by rail, it could come in by other means of transportation," Earl said. "We understand the sensitivities of the negotiations going on, but from OPG's perspective, we are able to operate our plant as usual."

Meanwhile, talks to deal with long-term disputes between Six Nations, the province and Ottawa are set to begin Tuesday. The talks are to deal with outstanding land claims, governance on Six Nations and the Haldimand Tract, the 1784 proclamation which gave Six Nations six miles on each side of the Grand River. The provincial side is being led by former Brant MP Jane Stewart and Ottawa has selected former Tory cabinet minister Barbara McDougall.

Stewart told The Spectator she remains optimistic about resolving the issues and she's got a good impression from all sides. But she said it is a complex issue that will take time.

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