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A VIA Rail passenger train is pictured at the station after service was cancelled due to VIA Rail stoppages around Cobourg, Ontario, Dec. 24, 2022.NICK LACHANCE/Reuters

A fierce winter storm that had stranded hundreds of Via Rail passengers in Ontario and Quebec overnight has morphed into a cancellation of all trains in the service’s Toronto-Ottawa and Toronto-Montreal corridors this holiday weekend after a CN train derailment.

The weather-induced chaos in the region initially left nine Via Rail trains stuck between Quebec City and Windsor on Friday night owing to power outages or downed trees, with some travellers saying trains were stationary for more than 13 hours as water and food ran out.

By Saturday evening, Via Rail said in a statement that all passengers on Friday’s trains had reached their final destinations, but that the company was “forced” to cancel all trains on the Toronto-Ottawa and Toronto-Montreal corridors for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as a result of a Canadian National Railway Co. train that had come off its track.

Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra called the Via Rail situation “unacceptable” in a Twitter statement Saturday afternoon.

“We are in contact with them to resolve all issues safely and efficiently,” Mr. Alghabra’s statement says. “The unprecedented weather has caused delays in our transportation system and the safety of passengers and crew is our top priority.”

Passengers who were stranded overnight on Friday’s trains complained about a lack of communication from the transit company during their hours-long delay.

Jeffrey Chemeres was a passenger travelling on Train 55 from Ottawa to Toronto when it came to a halt after hitting a tree around 9 p.m.

At first, he said there was little information and that employees had no idea what was going on. Two hours into the incident, they heard that engineers would be coming to check the train, but heard little else for several hours.

In the early morning, Mr. Chemeres said passengers went four hours with no updates, while the train ran out of food and water. He said people were subsequently jumping from the train and heading for nearby roads in view.

The train started moving again at 11 a.m., but he was frustrated when they were dropped off in Oshawa with little notice, instead of completing their journey to Union Station in Toronto.

Passengers “including elderly people with luggage and Christmas gifts … had to climb the stairs to transfer and had no idea what they were doing,” Mr. Chemeres said, adding that they were surprised because Via Rail originally said they’d be taken to Union Station.

“That was the part that really annoyed me. If a tree falls, it’s bad luck, but the communication was just awful, it was a lesson in how not to handle a situation.”

Mr. Chemeres spoke to The Globe and Mail on Saturday afternoon from a GO train headed to his final destination of Burlington, Ont. During the interview, transit staff announced that the train had also experienced mechanical difficulties and that passengers would have to disembark and board the next trip.

On another Via Rail train, Killa Atencio said her sister and four-year-old nephew were stuck in Montreal for 13 hours, beginning around 7 p.m. on Friday. The train didn’t start moving toward its destination in New Brunswick until 8 a.m. the next day, she said in an interview.

Via Rail staff arranged for her sister and nephew to have a cabin on the train so he could sleep, she added.

Police and firefighters were able to board some trains on Saturday to provide snacks and water after supplies had run out.

Via Rail said it will compensate travellers for the difficulties they endured this weekend.

“Although stopped, we were able to keep passengers warm and safe while on board. Our teams worked tirelessly towards getting these trains moving again,” a company statement says.

“We deeply regret the stress this has caused our passengers, and VIA Rail will be exceptionally providing full refund and a travel credit to all the passengers who were on board trains that were delayed through the night.”

With a report from The Canadian Press

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