Cloverdale’s heritage rail revival is moving along rapidly, with plans to launch weekend passenger service next spring well underway, and construction on a replica electric railway station set to begin this month.
Since moving operations from Sullivan to Cloverdale three months ago, the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society’s project has sparked the public’s imagination, with new members signing up at a recent open house and dozens more coming forward to volunteer as conductors, operators, ticket masters and maintenance crew.
Using volunteers, the society plans to launch passenger operations out of Cloverdale on the May long weekend – when thousands of people will be in town for the Cloverdale Rodeo and Country Fair.
Passenger service will operate weekends to Thanksgiving 2013 between Cloverdale and Sullivan Station at 152 Street and 64 Avenue, where there’s already a replica station. It’s being relocated on the property next week.
And right on schedule, this week a crew is to begin excavating the site at 5554 176 Street in preparation for the imminent start of construction on Cloverdale Station.
The replica BC Electric Railway station is being built using the original blueprints and plans, and the society has high hopes that the building will be more than just walls, a roof and a platform by the time the passenger runs are launched.
Society secretary Allen Aubert says there are more than 300 active memberships – many of them seniors with the expertise and experience needed to refurbish the old electric rail cars.
Now the society is reaching out to volunteer tradespeople such as carpenters who do fine woodwork and suppliers willing to donate the extras like wooden shingles to the Cloverdale Station project.
“This project is the people’s railway, because it’s all done by volunteers,” he said.
The project recently got a big boost from RDM Enterprises, a family-run operation that’s providing excavating services, and Seagate Structures Ltd., which has climbed aboard as construction managers, helping the society close the gap on a $1.5 million fundraising goal for Cloverdale Station.
[A detail of a map at the FVHRS’s Cloverdale Car Barn showing the original Interurban lines]
The replica 1909 station will have two rooms – one to house artifacts from the Surrey Museum. The other is a waiting room that will do double-duty as a location for heritage programming in the off-season from October to mid-May.
If more money isn’t raised and work-in-kind along with materials aren’t forthcoming, the station will still be built, but it won’t be complete; Aubert said there will be a foundation, walls, a roof and a platform, but it won’t have heritage-style windows or doors, and the interiors won’t be finished.
“We’ve got enough resources to make a start,” Aubert said. “The building will go up.”
A wish list of trades and materials is presently being drawn up.
Meantime, with the society’s move to Cloverdale more or less complete, “We’re getting a lot more young people interested,” FVHRS chair John Sprung said told members of the Surrey Heritage Society last month.
“There’s a history to this area and they want to know more about it.”
The society believes tourists and rail buffs will be attracted by the prospect of riding the original cars on the original BC Electric Interurban line, 60 years after the last Interurban passed through Surrey.
This fall, visitors poured into the new Cloverdale car barn to view the refurbished Interurbans and a vintage street car, nicknamed the Clover Belle, inside a space that’s essentially a garage, Sprung said.
The goal is to get passenger service to Sullivan this spring, but it’s not the end of the journey.
Sprung, in speaking with the Surrey Heritage Society, said the FVHRS wants to one day extend the service all the way to the Skytrain station at Scott Road.
[Judy Higginbotham steps off car #1225, the focus of thousands of hours of restoration efforts and one of the last remaining original BC Electric Interurbans]
Tourists arriving at Vancouver International Airport or by cruise ship will be able to “come in on the modern and transfer to the historic” at Scott Road, boarding the Interurban to Cloverdale, he said.
The project dovetails neatly with other heritage initiatives taking place in Cloverdale, including the Surrey Heritage Society’s efforts to open a transportation heritage centre featuring vintage B.C. freight vehicles – each as lovingly restored as the Interurban cars.
“We’re looking at heritage tourism. This is as huge area, world wide,” Sprung said, and it’s growing, as Baby Boomers entering their sunset years look to indulge their sense of nostalgia and their travel bug.
The FVHRS sees its role in bringing in visitors to the heritage centre of the Fraser Valley, Sprung said.
“There are tremendous assets in Cloverdale.”
The 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 or to donate visit fvhrs.org.