Heritage rail plan back on track

Soil conditions have delayed – but not derailed – an ambitious plan to revive heritage rail in Cloverdale.

Crews install storm drains last week on the Cloverdale property that’s at the centre of a heritage rail revival project. The site

A plan that puts Cloverdale at the centre of a heritage rail revival is back on track, after experiencing delays at the construction site this summer.

The Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society – dedicated to preserving the history of Interurban rail travel in the region – is relocating its operations from Sullivan Station to Cloverdale.

Along with a new garage (called a car barn) to house two B.C. Electric Railway passenger cars, the society is building a replica of the original Cloverdale Station and will launch limited passenger runs – opening up a world of possibilities for local tourism and potential volunteers.

But the launch of construction unexpectedly suffered a setback this summer, society secretary Allen Aubert told The Reporter last week.

“We’ve been delayed four to five months due to soil conditions on site,” located on 176 Street just south of Highway 10 in the historic town centre, Aubert said. “That’s all resolved. As of today, all of the storm drainage has been put in.”

Construction is now expected to begin early this fall, once a few technical details are worked out with the City of Surrey.

“With any luck, the building should be completed by February,” he said.

The society’s new home at 5554 176 Street is just steps from the original Cloverdale Station, which was for decades a hub for the old Interurban line. In its heyday from 1910 to 1950, three trains a day ran between Chilliwack and Vancouver.

Out of a fleet of 80 Interurban cars, only are seven left. “They all got burned and destroyed at the end of operation in 1955,” Aubert said.

Most of the survivors ended up in U.S. museums. Two belong to the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society, whose volunteers have spent thousands of hours restoring the old wooden cars to their former glory.

Interurban carOnce the new car barn is complete, the society will move its entire operations from Sullivan Station, at 64 Avenue and 152 Street, to Cloverdale.

The society planned to roll out service with Car 1225 this September.

Instead, testing will start next April, with the first limited passenger runs between Cloverdale and Sullivan starting in May.

Potential volunteers, take note: there will be opportunities for Cloverdale and Surrey residents to climb on board – whether as operators, ticket-takers, conductors or tour guides.

“You can imagine if we’re there every weekend, and there’s a train moving every half hour,” Aubert said. “There will be all kinds of opportunities to participate. It’s going to be very exciting.”

The society also plans to commission the construction of a replica baggage car to house the generator that will power the electric cars.

Car 1304 – known as the Chilliwack Car – is also called the Royal Car because it was used by the former Governor General of Canada, the Duke of Connaught and his wife, the Duchess, during a visit to Vancouver in 1912. Then, it went back into regular service. “Somewhere in that car, there’s some royal DNA,” Aubert said.

On 1304’s final trip, a group of students from Yarrow School rode the Interurban on a special excursion.

“We’re hoping to contact some of those children,” he said.

“They’d probably be in their 60s and 70s now. We would like to try and find some of them and see if we can get them back on the first trip.”

Longer-range plans call to extend the run further west to Newton and finally to Scott Road, sliding in at ground level at the Scott Road SkyTrain station.

“We’’ll be able to get people to visit us from great distance,” Aubert said. “We’ll be able to market this internationally.”

Cloverdale Station will also be home to the Clover Belle, a vintage streetcar that’s the focus of interconnected – but entirely separate – restoration efforts.

The Cloverdale Business Improvement Association, the Cloverdale District Chamber of Commerce and the City of Surrey are working on a feasibility study to consider the installation of a heritage streetcar line on 176 Street between Highway 10 and 58A Avenue.

Passengers on the restored Interurban would be able to walk across the platform at Cloverdale station and take the Clover Belle up 176 Street.

Aubert said his society is about 70 per cent of the way to reaching its fundraising goal for the nearly $6 million project.

Early this year, the City of Surrey approved $2.9 million in spending to relocate the FVHRS’s operations to Cloverdale.

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