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TRUCK TRAFFIC CLOGS PEACE BRIDGE BECAUSE OF RAIL STRIKE IN CANADA

A six-day-old rail strike in Canada already has resulted in a record for truck traffic on the Peace Bridge, as shippers switch to alternative methods for hauling cargo.

Wednesday set an all-time record, with 4,793 trucks crossing the bridge, Stephen F. Mayer, Peace Bridge operations manager, said Thursday.

An official at the other main international crossing for commercial vehicles in the area, the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, also reported greater-than-normal truck traffic, but exact figures were unavailable.

Mayer said the Peace Bridge has been able to accommodate the additional truck traffic without problems. The bridge ordinarily handles 3,500 to 4,000 commercial vehicles each working day.

Railroad workers at the two principal Canadian freight and passenger lines began striking Saturday in protest of cost-cutting plans by the railways. About 7,800 maintenance workers and locomotive engineers are on strike.

The average truck pays about $6.70 in tolls, so Canada's labor woes are benefiting the coffers of the bi-national bridge.

"Revenues are clearly up," Mayer said. "We don't know how long it will last."

He pointed out that truck traffic already had been running about 10 percent ahead of last year's record pace before the strike began. More than 1 million trucks crossed the bridge in 1994.

Meanwhile, Canada's parliament agreed Thursday to hold emergency weekend sessions to end work stoppages that have paralyzed the country's rail system, officials said.

"There are very grave economic repercussions coast to coast," Labor Minister Lucienne Robillard said. "Jobs are being lost everywhere in the country and we must act."

If all goes according to the government's plan, the 30,000 railroad workers could be back at work Monday morning after more than a week of nationwide strikes or lockouts that manufacturers estimate will have cost $3.5 billion (U.S.).

Also, Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd. said Thursday that hourly employees returned to work as expected at its vehicle assembly plant in St. Thomas, Ontario. Ford had laid off 2,500 workers at the plant on Monday when Canada's railway strike halted shipments of vehicle body panels needed for production.

Using 140 trucks to replace the rail cars, Ford Motor Co.'s Canadian subsidiary has been able to resupply the plant enough to resume production in two four-hour daily shifts instead of the usual two eight-hour shifts.

Ford's passenger van assembly plant in Oakville, Ontario is also expected to operate four-hour day and afternoon shifts on Thursday, said spokesman Jim Hartford.

Workers at the company's Ontario Truck Plant in Oakville completed a four-hour day shift Thursday, but that plant does not have a regular afternoon shift, he said.

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