Travellers stranded as more than a dozen Via trains between Windsor and Quebec City cancelled or immobilized
Power outages and downed trees among reasons for cancellations, Via says
Hundreds of passengers ended up trapped on Via Rail trains running between Windsor, Ont., and Quebec City through Friday night and into Saturday afternoon after several trips experienced significant delays.
Seven trains in the Quebec City-Windsor corridor were cancelled and another nine were immobilized, Via Rail said in an email statement.
Via Rail listed power outages, downed trees on the tracks and one tree that fell on a train as being among the reasons for the delays.
Shortly before 5 p.m. on Saturday, Via Rail said all passengers on those immobilized trains had reached their final destinations.
Due to a derailment involving a CN Rail train, Via said all of its trains running between Ottawa and Toronto, and Montreal and Toronto would be cancelled on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
CBC heard from passengers who were either stranded on trains or had finally arrived at their destinations after major slowdowns — in some cases nearly a full day after their scheduled arrival.
Passengers described cramped conditions, out-of-service bathrooms and a lack of food and water.
Some people, fed up with the conditions, gathered their luggage and disembarked to continue their travels on foot, according to accounts from witnesses at the scene.
The culprit that has kept <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/viarail?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#viarail</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/train55?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#train55</a> stuck since last night.<br><br>17 hours on the train. Made some new friends. Slept on the floor. Booked and then cancelled a hotel room. It's a Christmas Eve to remember. <a href="https://t.co/inoZCkCg3y">pic.twitter.com/inoZCkCg3y</a>—@lucilleellis
Kasper Barynin boarded Via Rail train 55 headed to Toronto at the Via station in Ottawa on Friday afternoon.
Barynin told CBC on Saturday morning that shortly after passing through Cobourg, Ont., a tree fell on top of the train. Once Via staff realized the train had sustained damage, Barynin said, they pulled off to a sidetrack.
As of Saturday morning, Barynin had been waiting onboard for more than 12 hours since the tree fell, turning what was supposed to be a four-hour journey into one lasting more than 20 hours.
Barynin said passengers had difficulty sleeping in the fully lit cabin and described dirty, unhygienic bathroom conditions, as toilets stopped flushing shortly after midnight.
Another passenger on the same train posted a series of tweets on Saturday morning that showed the arrival of first responders who helped transfer passengers to another rescue train.
Bolaji Laflamme-Lagoke likewise travelled from Ottawa to Toronto but on a different train. He said his train car passed the same towns several times, moving back and forth along the track and extending his trip to 16 hours.
"The official messages we got were very infrequent," he told CBC News. "Why are we going back? Why are there not crews on hand?"
'It's very frustrating'
Others never left the station.
Richard Craig arrived at Toronto's Union Station for a scheduled 10:30 a.m. departure with the hope of taking the train to Ottawa's Fallowfield station and continuing by car to his family home in Renfrew, Ont.
After learning his train had been cancelled, he waited for hours at the station, unable to get any information from staff.
"It's very frustrating at the lack of information," he said. "Via Rail unfortunately just doesn't seem to care very much about the customers."
Stephanie Green, a student at the University of Ottawa, had already arrived at the train station when she learned that her trip — originally scheduled for 5:30 a.m. on Saturday — had been cancelled.
"My mom even said that she's willing to pay business class just because she wants me to be home for the holidays," Green said. "We're trying our best to make it work."
The current situation with <a href="https://twitter.com/VIA_Rail?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@VIA_Rail</a> is unacceptable and we are in contact with them to resolve all issues safely and efficiently. The unprecedented weather has caused delays in our transportation system and the safety of passengers and crew is our top priority.—@OmarAlghabra
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra called the Via Rail situation "unacceptable" in a Twitter post on Saturday afternoon.
"We are in contact with them to resolve all issues safely and efficiently," he wrote.
Via offers full refund — but not everyone receives it
Via said it apologizes for the situation and will provide passengers who were delayed overnight a full refund and a travel credit.
"We deeply regret the stress this has caused our passengers," the company said in its Saturday afternoon statement.
University of Ottawa student Hamda Omer, however, said earlier Saturday that she had only received a discount of 50 per cent off.
Omer left from Ottawa at noon on Friday to visit family in London, Ont. She arrived in Toronto at 7 p.m., and after a four-hour delay, departed for the final leg of her trip.
By the time the train arrived in London at 4 a.m. on Saturday, staff were overworked and supplies of food and water were getting low, Omer said.
Via said it is aiming to get passengers to their destinations as "quickly and as safely as possible."
With files from Natalia Goodwin, Kimberley Molina, Patrick Swadden, Mirna Djukic and Kate Adach