Surrey’s Heritage Rail: A journey through time

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Overview of the Cloverdale Station, Car 1225 and the Speeder with carts. Photo: Ray Hudson

by Ray Hudson

Overview of the Cloverdale Station, Car 1225 and the Speeder with carts. Photo: Ray Hudson
Overview of the Cloverdale Station, Car 1225 and the Speeder with carts.
Photo: Ray Hudson

Surrey: Over the summer, the Asian Journal will run a series of articles on interesting things to do in our region. So far we’ve taken you to the Honey Bee Centre and the Urban Wildlife Rescue Centre. Today we’ll find out what’s happening with the old BC Electric Railway Line, and what’s the buzz about Cloverdale and Newton.

There’s a railway station at the south foot of 176A Street in Cloverdale. It’s also a time machine. When you walk through the door, you see a building very similar to what was on the exact spot 100 years ago. When you walk out onto the platform, you cross a threshold that will transport you back to mid-1940’s, particularly as you climb the steps into the Interurban tram, BCER Car 1225, built in 1912, and restored appropriate to the time of the mid-nineteen forties.

“When the car builds up the air pressure for the brakes,” said Heritage Rail Society Secretary Allen Aubert, “it moves away from the Cloverdale station with a gentle lurch, just as Interurban cars did 105 years ago. You are now into your journey through time as you travel west to Sullivan Station and back again.”

“People are astonished to see our bright red car coming along the tracks,” said Board Chair, John Sprung. “Every time we cross the highway, people stopped at the crossing signals are waving and smiling and many are taking pictures, it’s such a rare sight. Up to the 1950’s it was as common a sight to see the Interurban tram as seeing the next bus is today.”

“Going for a heritage excursion on Car 1225 is quite the adventure,” said Aubert. “In the forty-five minute excursion to Sullivan Station at 152nd Street and 64th Avenue, the rider moves through the beautiful vistas of the verdant farmland with corn, blueberries and other crops as well as wild flowers. All this is framed by Mt. Baker or, little further away, the Golden Ears mountains to the north. Except for the modern vehicles on the roads, it’s easy to imagine the vistas virtually unchanged in the one-hundred plus years since the trains began service.”

Although the restored Car 1225 is the centre-piece of the operation, there is much more to see and experience. The replica Cloverdale station was built from the blueprints of the original Cloverdale Station and situated to within a few feet of the original. As well as the point of departure for the train excursion, it also houses a transit museum with many artifacts, photos and film clips of the BC Electric rail and transit operations. Visitors can also put themselves in the place of the tram drivers in a simulator, put their hands on the throttle and brake and experience the visual display as if they were driving the train.

Once on the campus, the visitor will notice the lush plantings around the station and the natural meadow replete with indigenous wild flowers. The plan was designed by the Horticulture class at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU). The beautiful hanging baskets are a gift of the Office of the President, Dr. Alan Davis.

Across the tracks from the station is the Car Barn, which is where all the rolling stock is housed, and where the magic of restoration (we call it rehabilitation) occurs. It is accessible on guided tours where the visitor can see the large walls covered with large historic photos and memorabilia of the Interurban Era, particularly as it relates to the Fraser Valley. Guides will relate many of the stories attached to the photos and artifacts. Young and old alike are encouraged to ring the bells and sound the horn.

SHR Barntour
SHR Barntour

The car barn is also a work area, and visitors can see the progress being made in the rehabilitation of Car 1304. It is the last existing Chilliwack car, built specifically for the three hour run across the valley.

“People have the opportunity to tour Car 1304 and see the restoration progress first hand,” says Director Stephen Plant, who does duty as both the Society’s Treasurer and Car Barn Tour Guide. “This is a special car because it carried the Governor General of Canada, Prince Arthur (son of Queen Victoria) on his tour of the Lower Mainland in 1912. Imagine the plush velour upholstery and drapes of the royal appointment. Then imagine the car, in 1945 when it burned to a shell after catching fire on a deadhead run back to New Westminster. The car was rebuilt from the floor up and returned to service in 1945.”

Plant went on to explain that the restoration is well along, and when the wheels and bearings are reconditioned, and the motors’ coils are rewound, it’s expected the car will return to service in 2017 in time to celebrate the 150th Canada Anniversary of Confederation.

Also people are encouraged to ride our restored velocipede, a three-wheeled track inspection vehicle.

Harry Taylor astride the Velocipede
Harry Taylor astride the Velocipede

“The next major attraction is speeder rides,” says Ray Crowther, Vice-Chair, restoration volunteer and Speeder Driver. “For those who don’t know, a Speeder is a small track inspection vehicle, but we’ve built a couple of rail carts and take people for a shorter open air ride along our kilometre-long spur line. Kids and adults love this experience.”

The Surrey Heritage Rail experience is unique to the region and its Cloverdale location is easily accessible to people from all over the Lower Mainland.

“We’ve been at this since 1996,” said Aubert, who was a member of the Surrey Heritage Advisory Commission that launched the idea at that time. “In 2001 the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society was formed, we built the original car barn at Sullivan, acquired Car 1225 in 2005, Car 1304 in 2009, and when we realized we had outgrown the Sullivan site, built the Cloverdale site and moved in 2012. But we’re not done. We are about to receive another car. Car 1207 operated by the Downtown Heritage Rail group ran from Cambie Street to Granville Island in Vancouver, but was discontinued following the Olympics. Our plan is to expand our operations to Newton Centre, and tie in with the Surrey Light Rail project on King George Boulevard. That will allow direct connectivity with SkyTrain. With more than one train, we’ll be able to offer a heritage rail experience from Newton to Cloverdale as well as Cloverdale to Newton, opening up Surrey’s historic centres to people, many of whom will travel from around the world for a genuine heritage rail experience.”

“The Society operates entirely on volunteer staff, and we are always looking for more volunteers to restore, work with passengers and operate the equipment” said Sprung, “and is assisted by many generous donors, including the City of Surrey, SRY Raillink and BC Hydro to name just a few.”

The Surrey Heritage Rail operates every Saturday and Sunday through the Thanksgiving weekend with special themed trains and events for Halloween and Christmas. The Rail campus is at 176A Street and Highway #10, immediately east of the Clydesdale Inn. More information on Surrey’s Heritage Rail is available at fvhrs.org, www.facebook.com/fvhrs and on twitter twitter.com/fvheritagerail

Ray Hudson is also a director of the Fraser Valley Heritage Rail Society. Photos by Ray Hudson