When Cloverdale’s heritage rail project pulls out of the station carrying its first passengers in half a century this Saturday, people with mobility problems will climb aboard with ease.
The platform at the replica Cloverdale station has been fitted with an electric lift, allowing passengers in wheelchairs, people who use canes, or those who simply wish to avoid hiking up the rail car’s steep steps to take a ride on the heritage railway, thanks to a donation from a Surrey credit union that was approved in record time.
On June 22, more than 50 years after she made her last run, the restored interurban car 1225 will shuttle its first passengers along the original line between Cloverdale and Sullivan Station.
It’s a day the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society, volunteers, their supporters and sponsors, have long worked towards.
In late 2012, after a move to the new car barn in Cloverdale, the society launched a sponsorship campaign to support the building project for Cloverdale Station, a replica of the original that once stood just metres away.
More than two dozen came forward, ensuring the building was solidly built, but also has historically-accurate extras, from double hung windows and heritage paint colours to just-for-show chimneys and wood stove.
While wheelchair accessibility for the train was not required to certify as a Transport Canada-approved passenger service, it was an important consideration.
The society has more than 300 active members – many of them seniors and retirees with the expertise and experience needed to refurbish the old electric rail cars. Additionally, various seniors groups and other rail enthusiasts have made inquiries about taking a ride on the Interurban again.
“They still have memories of going on it but now they can’t climb the steps,” society secretary Allen Aubert said. “It was going to be bitter sweet.”
The Savaria multi lift, its installation, and a folding wheelchair have been made possible thanks to the G & F Financial Group Foundation.
“We were just blown away by the scale and scope of what this is and what this will be,” recalled Thomas Tomasovszky, financial services manager of the Cloverdale branch. He approached approached the G&F Financial Group Foundation to consider supporting the project.
The board’s approval came in record time, convening on an emergency basis to consider the application.
“We really felt that this was something big – and different, too,” Tomasovszky said. “This is a grand project.”
Added financial services officer Shannon Smith: “We just think it’s a great project and we’d like to continue to be a part of it.”
Aubert said without the lift, there would be many potential passengers – in addition to volunteers who’ve helped see the project through to this stage – who would otherwise be left watching from the platform as the heritage rail revival pulls out from Cloverdale Station on weekends to Thanksgiving.
“We will now have an accessible Interurban,” Aubert said.