After more than half a century and thousands of hours of volunteer effort, the dream is about to become real.
The Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society is set to launch weekend runs on the original Interurban passenger rail line from Cloverdale to Sullivan return starting this Sunday.
It’s the culmination of years of effort and there have been many milestones along the way.
The most recent came on June 9, when restored 1912 British Columbia Electric Railway car 1225 made its first trip from newly-completed Cloverdale Station to Sullivan Station on the Fraser Valley line through Surrey.
The 15-minute (one way) journey with crew was the heritage rail demonstration project’s final certification hurdle, FVHRS secretary Allen Aubert told The Reporter.
It was also an historic occasion for Car 1225, which is one of the few surviving original BCER cars – most were destroyed when the passenger railway was phased out in the mid-1950s.
“It was the first run in about 50-odd years that it ran on the mainline track, and it ran flawlessly,” Aubert said.
The sight of the 1912 wooden Interurban railcar crossing Highway 10 had motorists pulling over to take photographs with their smart phones or to simply smile and wave with enthusiastic thumbs-up.
The society’s ultimate goal is to restore and operate heritage interurbans through Surrey and the Fraser Valley, linking heritage tourism destinations.
For now, the runs are limited to a 45-minute round trip from the newly-built replica Cloverdale Station at 176A Street just south of Hwy 10, along the British Columbia Southern Railway line – through scenic rural countryside and across busy modern roadways – to Sullivan Station at 152 Street and 64 Avenue in Surrey and back again.
For safety reasons, the car must stop at every crossing so the conductor can get out to physically verify that all motor traffic is stopped.
“It’s just to be sure nobody in a car is going to ignore the signals and drive on through,” Aubert said.
The City of Surrey is installing signs alerting motorists at crossings, including on Highway 10 and at the 152 Street intersection.
This past Sunday, the crew members who are operating the weekend passenger service took a number of training runs between Cloverdale and Sullivan to ensure everything will run smoothly once operations begin.
The official opening of Cloverdale Station is this Saturday, June 22. The station platform will be filled with dignitaries including Mayor Dianne Watts and Surrey city councillors, Frank Butzelaar, president of the Southern Railway of B.C., and Steven Higginbottom from B.C. Hydro will help officially open the replica station and the line, followed by the ceremonial inaugural passenger run.
The first full day of operations is the following day, with the electric-powered rail car leaving Cloverdale Station on the hour, starting at 10 a.m. The last train will leave Cloverdale at 3 p.m. It’s about 45 minutes round-trip. (Note: There are no stops at Sullivan this summer.)
The Re-enactors – professional actors portraying personalities from Surrey’s past – will be on hand, lending an air of authenticity to the festivities.
[Right, Peter Finch takes BCER 1225 for a spin down a spur line leading to Cloverdale Station]
From here on, the line will operate passenger service Saturdays, Sundays and holidays to Thanksgiving.
The car seats 56. There are no reservations; it’s first-come, first-serve. Tickets are $10 for adults, and $5 for children 12 and under.
Aubert said he expects between 300 to 400 visitors to turn out on June 23, but admits it’s difficult to know precisely.
“We don’t know what the demand is. It’s just like any other train – you turn up at the station!”
Launching the demonstration passenger project is not the end of the journey – the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society wants to one day extend the service all the way to the Skytrain station at Scott Road, opening up a world of heritage tourism potential.
The original Cloverdale Station was a hub for the BCER, or Interurban, an electric railway that operated for more than 40 years. In its heyday, three trains a day ran between Chilliwack and Vancouver, through Cloverdale, offering rapid transit to a growing suburban population.
The BCER was closed down in the 1950s and almost the entire fleet was burned.
The FVHRS formed with the dream of returning a working BCER Interurban to the original track, still used to transport freight as part of the Southern Railway of B.C.
A heritage rail revival in mind, the FVHRS tracked down two surviving cars, and a team of volunteers has been working steadily to bring them back to life.
The society’s push for a heritage rail revival gained momentum this summer when the FVHRS moved its operations from Sullivan Station to Cloverdale, and launched a sponsorship campaign and volunteer drive for new members to work on the operational side as ticket takers, conductors and more. The sponsorship campaign to build Cloverdale Station attracted nearly 30 sponsors to the construction project, which broke ground in November.
The entire project is in partnership with the City of Surrey and the Southern Railway of B.C., with the assistance of B.C. Hydro. For more information, visit fvhrs.org.