By Thomas Cheney, Rail for the Valley, Chilliwack Chapter
In 1910, Premier Richard McBride drove the last spike of the British Columbia Electric Railway finally providing a convenient connection between the Fraser Valley and Vancouver. Beyond being a ribbon of steel, it brought the new technology of electricity to the hinterland.
Today, the old interurban line could again bring advanced technology and transportation options to Bradner and the rest of the Fraser Valley. The Rail for the Valley and South Fraser Community Rail initiatives together present plans to connect Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack with zero-emission hydrogen trains. This avoids the costs of electrifying the line while allowing British Columbia to showcase its excellence in the hydrogen and fuel cell sector. With over 1.2 million people currently living in the South Fraser region, a new solution, community rail is needed.
By Heather Lemieux, Editor
The British Columbia Electric Railway (BCER) established a regional railway to serve the Fraser Valley logging and agricultural communities that had been developing since 1860 from Brownsville to Chilliwack. (Brownsville was a former community in what is now the City of Surrey, BC and was also formerly known as South Westminster).
The Fraser Rail bridge opened in 1904 linking New Westminster to the South shore and the BCER moved forward to establish the Interurban railway, which was a 68.8 mile long passenger and freight service that operated from October 1st, 1910 until September 30th, 1950. The passenger rail service was discontinued in favour of buses.
The railway continues to operate but ownership has changed and it is now known as the Southern Railway of British Columbia (SRY Rail Link) The Fraser Valley Line is still intact and SRY Rail Link provides freight service to its customers along the historical rail corridor.
In 1996 the Surrey Heritage Advisory Commission conducted a feasibility study and in 2001 the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society (FVHRS) was formed. The FVHRS mission is to acquire, restore and operate BCER Interurban cars for tourism purposes on the original BCER route through Surrey and the Fraser Valley to link historical destinations. Seven (7) Interurban rail cars were saved from the destruction that took place in the early 1950's, when most Interurban rail cars ended up being burnt at the rail yard under the Burrard Street bridge. Some were purchased and moved to museums south of the border. The FVHRS has acquired two (2) of those for restoration to their operating condition. The first, BCER 1225 was the last car to operate in 1958 and has been fully rehabilitated to operating condition. After it's last run, it made it's way to the Orange Empire Railway Museum in California. It was purchased and moved back to BC by the FVHRS in 2005. Between 2008 and 2012, 18,000 volunteer hours and many community donations made the BCER 1225 restoration project possible. Now passengers can experience this heritage rail service aboard the 1225 between the Cloverdale and Sullivan Stations seasonally from May through mid October.
The second interurban rail car, the BCER 1304 ("Connaught") was acquired and returned to BC on April 25th, 2009. The "Connaught" was used by the Duke of Connaught, Canada's Governor General on his official visit to British Columbia in 1912. To prepare BCER placed the 1304 through an extraordinary transformation of fresh paint; the royal coat of arms was displayed boldly but delicately lettered in gold on each side. The BCER 1304 was the only Chilliwack car to survive the BCER Interurban car burning. It is currently under restoration by the FVHRS and should be operational by 2017. The BCER 1304 was originally built in New Westminster in June 1911, as part of the three car Fraser Valley Interurban work order for the 1303, 1304 and 1305, and was patterned after the existing 1300, 1301 and 1302 set.
The BC Electric Railway in Bradner
Until 1910, logging still provided the livelihoods for most of the settlers to the Bradner area. Then in 1910 a nearby stop on the new British Columbia Electric Railway changed how the community grew. The railway linked Bradner to areas from Chilliwack to Vancouver. With the arrival of the rail, valley communities became less dependent on the Fraser's paddle-wheelers to take their milk and produce to market in New Westminster.
From 1910-1952 the BC Electric Railway provided passenger trains and freight service twice daily and an extra market train came through on Fridays. They also had a milk train every morning to carry dairy products.
Thomas Bradner settled in this area in the 1890's, cleared his land and raised livestock. In 1911 the BC Electric Railway built a railline through the district. Bradner sold his land on which the BCER had surveyed for its right-of-way and moved out of the area but his name, given to the station built on his former property, remained. Typical of the growers in the Bradner district is Wessel (Bill) Bales, who specializes in bulbs and flowers on his 18-acre farm northwest of Bradner station on the BCER.
The railway was integral to Bradner's agriculture economy, in addition to being a transportation service. Pictured right is Robin Fatkin, Pete Vander Zalm, Fred Sluggett and Nick Vander Zalm loading Bradner daffodil bulbs onto a railcar for shipment at the Bradner Station.
The railway continues to operate but ownership has changed and it is now known as the Southern Railway of British Columbia (SRY Rail Link). Although the train station closed to passenger traffic in 1952, today, community activists are looking to the former BC Electric Rail line as a resurrected option for public transit.
Bradner residents will be pleased to know that the FVHRS plans to extend their operations. The current plan calls for the development of a full station at Newton Centre, adjacent to the city’s proposed light rail service from City Centre to Newton. This will provide the opportunity to access and ride the Interurban via the SkyTrain and Light Rail. The FVHRS's mission is to acquire, restore and operate BCER Interurban cars for tourism purposes on the original BCER route through Surrey. For the foreseeable future, rail links to other historical destinations in the eastern Fraser Valley aren’t available as the Deltaport higher speed rail corridor has virtually eliminated access to any destinations east of Cloverdale. Perhaps one day, additional track will allow such access and the Bradner residents may again enjoy the convenience of the Interurban.
Please to support the FVHRS by donating, visiting, becoming a member or volunteering. The FVHRS provides training and has a variety of volunteer opportunities. Please call 604-574-9056 to learn more.
Visit the FVRHS at the Cloverdale Station, foot of 176A St, South of HWY 10 (56th Ave) in Surrey. They are located across the street from the Surrey Archives (formerly Surrey City Hall) and next to the Surrey Museum.
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