OTTAWA - Montreal-based Canadian National Railway Co. and the Teamsters union reached a deal on Wednesday to end a strike by locomotive engineers, avoiding a potential blow to the fragile economic recovery.

Teamsters Canada president Daniel Shewchuk said the engineers will get back to work as quickly as possible, but didn't provide a timeline.

Federal Labour Minister Rona Ambrose said restoring full service quickly is critical to the economy.

"Canada is still at the early stages of a recovery from the global economic downturn and could not afford slowdowns and stoppages in such a critical component of the national infrastructure,'' Ambrose said in a statement.

Intense bargaining

The minister said the deal to end the strike, which began on Saturday, was reached as a result of "intense bargaining.''

Under the terms of the agreement, CN will not proceed with controversial work rule changes it announced last week including increasing the monthly mileage cap for the locomotive engineers.

The union had argued the hike would require some workers to work seven days a week, with no time off, and cause layoffs, something the company said was untrue.

CN and the union have also agreed to continue negotiations to resolve issues related to wages, benefits and work rules, but if there is no agreement any dispute over wages and benefits will be settled by binding arbitration.

The two sides may also agree to submit work-rule issues to binding arbitration, but only if they can agree on the ones that should be subject to arbitration.

Ambrose said she will appoint federal mediators and an arbitrator to help finalize the other outstanding issues.

The deal came after Ottawa introduced legislation Monday to end the strike.

The 1,700 engineers, members of the Teamsters Canadian Rail Conference, have been without a contract for almost a year.