British Columbia Electric Railway
|Locale||southwestern British Columbia and Vancouver Island|
|Dates of operation||1897–1989|
|Predecessor||National Electric Tramway and Lighting Company Limited (1890);
Vancouver Electric Railway and Light Company Limited (1890);
Westminster and Vancouver Tramway Company (1891)
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
The British Columbia Electric Railway (BCER) was an historic Canadian railway which operated in southwestern British Columbia. Originally the parent company, and later a division, of BC Electric, the BCER assumed control of existing streetcar and interurban lines in southwestern British Columbia in 1897, and operated the electric railway systems in the region until the last interurban service was discontinued in 1958. During and after the streetcar era, BC Electric also ran bus and trolleybus systems in Greater Vancouver and bus service in Greater Victoria; these systems subsequently became part of BC Transit, and the routes in Greater Vancouver eventually came under the control of TransLink. Trolley buses still run in the City of Vancouver and one line extends into Burnaby.
Streetcar and interurban services were inaugurated in southwestern British Columbia between 1890 and 1891, operated by the following companies:
- National Electric Tramway and Lighting Company Limited, which launched the streetcar service in Victoria on February 22, 1890;
- Vancouver Electric Railway and Light Company Limited, which launched Vancouver's streetcar system on June 27, 1890; and
- Westminster and Vancouver Tramway Company, which launched New Westminster's streetcar system on October 8, 1891, as well as the Vancouver-New Westminster interurban line (via Central Park in Burnaby) in the same year.
With the global depression in the 1890s, all three companies went into receivership, and were amalgamated in 1895 into the Consolidated Railway and Light Company. The newly founded company was forced into receivership again after a streetcar accident in Victoria (the Point Ellice Bridge Disaster) resulted in 55 deaths, and was reorganized as the British Columbia Electric Railway Company Limited in April 1897.
BCER began the Vancouver-Steveston interurban and freight service in 1905 after leasing the line from Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and electrifying it, launched streetcar service in North Vancouver in 1906, and started interurban service between Marpole and New Westminster along the North Arm of the Fraser River in 1909. Subsequent interurban service launches are as follows:
- New Westminster to Chilliwack: October 4, 1910 (also used by freight)
- Vancouver to New Westminster (via Burnaby Lake): 1911
- New Westminster to Queensborough and New Westminster to Fraser Mills: 1912
- Victoria to Deep Bay (now called Deep Cove)
The Victoria to Deep Cove line, one of three passenger railways to serve the Saanich Peninsula, was closed on November 1, 1924 due to low ridership. Construction of ramps leading to and from the new Pattullo Bridge resulted in the closure of the Queensborough and Fraser Mills lines in 1937, as well as the truncation of the Burnaby Lake line to Sapperton.
BCER ended streetcar service in New Westminster on December 5, 1938. The company then announced its "Rails-to-Rubber" conversion programme on September 30, 1944, with North Vancouver's last streetcar service and two of Vancouver's streetcar lines ending in April 1947, and Victoria's streetcar service ending on July 4, 1948. The Chilliwack line ceased service in 1950, followed by the Vancouver-Marpole line in 1952 and the Burnaby Lake line in 1953. The stretch of the Central Park line in Burnaby and New Westminster was closed on October 23, 1953, followed by the rest of the line through Vancouver on July 16, 1954. The last streetcar line in Vancouver, the 14 Hastings, ran on April 22, 1955. The Marpole-New Westminster interurban line was closed in 1956, followed by the Marpole-Steveston line on February 28, 1958, marking the complete closure of the interurban system.
In 1961, the provincial government took over BC Electric, with the railway becoming a division of Crown corporation BC Hydro. In 1989, BC Hydro sold the railway to a new shortline operator and the railway is now known as the Southern Railway of British Columbia and is exclusively a freight railway.
Power was supplied by then-innovative diversion projects at Buntzen Lake and on the Stave River system farther east, all of which were built primarily to supply power for the interurbans and street railway. A 6-mile (9.7 km) branch line, the Stave Falls Branch, (constructed during the building of the original Stave Falls hydroelectric plant) was isolated from the main interurban network, and linked the power plant and community at Stave Falls to the Canadian Pacific Railway station at Ruskin.
Current conditions of rights-of-way
Following the cessation of interurban services on the Central Park Line, the right-of-way remained under the control of BC Hydro. By 1975, the Greater Vancouver Regional District proposed incorporating the right-of-way into a light rail line linking Vancouver and New Westminster, thereby reinstating passenger rail service on the corridor. The provincial government eventually took over the project, which evolved into the Vancouver SkyTrain's Expo Line.
The Burnaby Lake line's right-of-way is largely taken up by the Trans-Canada Highway, but sections of it survive as walking and biking trails. The route of the Stave Falls Branch along Hayward Lake is also now a walking trail managed by BC Hydro and the District of Mission, with sections of it south of Ruskin Dam used as local powerline and neighbourhood walking trails.
The Vancouver-Marpole line's right-of-way (whose northern section runs beside Arbutus Street) remained under the ownership of the CPR, which continued running freight trains on the corridor until June 2001. With the end of freight operations on the line in sight, Vancouver City Council adopted the Arbutus Corridor Official Development Plan in 2000, designating the corridor as a transportation/greenway public thoroughfare to prevent other types of development from taking place along the right-of-way.
The Steveston line's alignment on Lulu Island can be traced by Railway Avenue, Granville Avenue, Garden City Road, and Great Canadian Way. After the end of passenger service in 1958 the Granville and Garden City section of the line was relocated largely parallel to River Road north of Westminster Highway.
The Victoria-Deep Cove interurban's alignment can be traced by Burnside Road, Interurban Road and the Interurban Rail Trail, West Saanich Road, Wallace Drive, Aldous Terrace, Mainwaring Road, one of Victoria International Airport's runways, and Tatlow Road to Deep Cove. Besides the stretch through the airport, the stretch at the Experimental Farm (now called the Sidney/Centre for Plant Health) has also been blocked.
Remaining BCER Cars
After the decommission of the BCER streetcar and interurban system, most of the cars were burned and scrapped, some were sold for various other uses such as becoming bunkhouses, storage sheds and in some cases decor. A handful of cars were also donated to various museums mostly in the U.S. Since then however, many preservation societies have brought back the cars and began restoring them. The following is a list of the known BCER cars in existence and their current locations (as of July 2013).
- #30 Not a BCER car. Built and operated in Porto, Portugal. Similar cars did operate in Victoria, B.C. Came to Victoria in the 1980s. In storage at FVHRS car barn.
- #53 Built in 1904, operated in Vancouver, on permanent static display inside The Old Spaghetti Factory in Gastown, Vancouver, BC.
- #153 Built in 1908, operated in North Vancouver, currently in storage under Fen Burdett Stadium, North Vancouver, BC.
- #400 Built in 1922, operated in Victoria, now located at the Nelson Electric Tramway Society in Nelson, BC.
- #1207 Built in 1905, operated on the Marpole-Steveston Line, now located at the Downtown Historic Railway in Vancouver, BC.
- #1220 Built in 1913, operated on the Marpole-Steveston Line, currently being restored at the Steveston Tram Museum, Richmond, BC.
- #1223 Built in 1913, operated on the Burnaby Lake Line, on static display at the Burnaby Village Museum, Burnaby, BC.
- #1225 Built in 1913, operated on the Marpole-Steveston and Burnaby Lake Lines, currently in operation at the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society, Cloverdale, BC.
- #1231 Built in 1913, operated on the Marpole-Steveston and Burnaby Lake Lines, now located at the Downtown Historic Railway, Vancouver, BC.
- #1235 Built in 1913, operated on the Marpole-Steveston Line, located at the Canada Science and Technology Museum, Ottawa, ON
- #1304 Built in 1911, operated on the Fraser Valley-Chilliwack Line, currently under restoration at the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society, Cloverdale, BC.
- Castle, Geoffrey. "Saanich, An Illustrated History" (1989). The Corporation of the District of Saanich. (also includes pictures of BCER railcars on this run from the Royal BC Museum collection)
- Ewert, Henry. "The Story of the B.C. Electric Railway Company" (1986). Whitecap Books.
- Ewert, Henry (January–February 2010). "British Columbia Electric Railway Company Limited" (PDF). Canadian Rail (534): 3–9. Retrieved 2013-01-01.
- Greater Vancouver Regional District (1975-03-26). The Livable Region 1976/1986 (Report). p. 24.
- Stutt, Jessica (2011). Planning the Expo Line: Understanding the technology choice behind Vancouver's first rail rapid transit line (M.Urb. thesis). Simon Fraser University. Retrieved 2013-01-02.