British Columbia Electric Railway

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British Columbia Electric Railway (BCER)
BC Electric streetcars 1910 cropped.jpg
BCER sightseeing trolley car on Granville Street in Vancouver (1910)
Localesouthwestern British Columbia and Vancouver Island
Dates of operation1897–1979
PredecessorNational Electric Tramway and Lighting Company Limited (1890);
Vancouver Electric Railway and Light Company Limited (1890);
Westminster and Vancouver Tramway Company (1891)
SuccessorBC Hydro, Southern Railway of British Columbia
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
British Columbia
Electric Railway
city lines
interurban lines

North Vancouver
New Westminster
Deep Cove
North Saanich

The British Columbia Electric Railway (BCER) was an historic railway which operated in southwestern British Columbia, Canada. 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:[1]

  • 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.[2] 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.[2]

Power supply[edit]

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.

Interurban Rail Lines[edit]


BCER began the Vancouver-Steveston interurban and freight service in 1905 after leasing the line from Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and electrifying it. 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.[3] 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.[3]

Marpole-Steveston (Lulu Island Branch)

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.

Marpole-New Westminster

Interurban service between Marpole and New Westminster along the North Arm of the Fraser River was started in 1909. Still in operation today, as part of the Southern Railway of British Columbia.[2]

New Westminster to Chilliwack (Fraser Valley Branch)

Opened October 4, 1910 (also used by freight) and still in operation today, as part of the Southern Railway of British Columbia.[2] This line made use of the New Westminster Bridge, opened in 1904.

Vorce Station is a modest utilitarian passenger tram shelter, originally constructed at the foot of Nursery Street in Burnaby BC as part of the British Columbia Electric Railway Company's Burnaby Lake Interurban Line. In 1977 it was relocated to the grounds of the Burnaby Village Museum.

Burnaby Lake 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.[4]

Central Park Line

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,[5] 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.[6]

New Westminster to Queensborough

The tracks from New Westminster to Queensborough and the 'Railway Bridge' across the north arm of the Fraser River are still in operation today, as part of the Southern Railway of British Columbia.

New Westminster to Fraser Mills

Opened in 1912,[4] 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.[7]

Victoria to Deep Bay

Now called Deep Cove, the Victoria to Deep Cove line (1913), was one of three passenger railways to serve the Saanich Peninsula, and was closed on November 1, 1924 due to low ridership.[7] 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.[8] Besides the stretch through the airport, the stretch at the Experimental Farm (now called the Sidney/Centre for Plant Health) has also been blocked.

Stave Lake

A 6-mile (9.7 km) steam train branch line,[9] 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.[7] 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.

Port Moody-Coquitlam

The Port Moody-Coquitlam Railway connected the Port Moody-Ioco spur of the Canadian Pacific Railway to the Coquitlam Dam in order to haul supplies and materials to the dam.

Alouette Lake

Similar to the Stave Lake and Port Moody-Coquitlam lines, the Alouette Lake dam tracks connected power facilities to the CPR that ran on the north side of the Fraser River at Kanaka Creek in Haney.[10]

Jordan River

This 5.3-mile railway connected the powerhouse and harbour at the mouth of the Jordan River to the Jordan River Dam.[11]

"Rails-to-Rubber" Transition[edit]

BCER ended streetcar service in New Westminster on December 5, 1938.[7] 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.[12] The Chilliwack line ceased service in 1950, followed by the Vancouver-Marpole line in 1952 and the Burnaby Lake line in 1953.[13] 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.[13] The last streetcar line in Vancouver, the 14 Hastings East, ran on April 22, 1955.[13] The Marpole-New Westminster interurban line was closed in 1956, followed by the Marpole-Steveston line on February 28, 1958,[13] 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 August of 1988, BC Hydro sold their freight division which included rolling stock and rails, not the corridor, to a company known as Itel of Chicago who resold it to a new shortline operator and the railway is now known as the Southern Railway of British Columbia and is exclusively a freight railway. Passenger rights were protected in perpetuity as part of the sale by the Bill Vander Zalm government. The freight rights on the joint section, otherwise known as the Pratt Livingston Corridor from 232nd Street to Cloverdale, were sold to CP Rail at the same time as the Itel sale, on a 21 year agreement covered by what is known by as the Master Agreement, previously unknown, which is renewable at either parties option. That agreement was found by Mayor Rick Green of the Township of Langley and its renewal was his initiative and was completed in June 2009. It is an 88 page agreement which includes the incorporation of Passenger Rights over the corridor at no cost for it's use, freight and passenger traffic must share the line fair and equitably and should freight traffic require more time than is available, double tracking shall be done at CP's expense including installation of track and removal of any debris. There is currently a very strong Community push for the reactivation of this line of 99kms line for passenger service between the Scott Rd. SkyTrain Station and the City of Chilliwack, utilizing Hydrogen Power, a Canadian produced technology by Hydrogenics in Mississauga Ontario, under a group known as the South Fraser Community Rail Group!

Remaining BCER Cars[edit]

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 January 2016).


Interurban Cars[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ewert (2010), p. 3.
  2. ^ a b c d Ewert (2010), p. 4.
  3. ^ a b C.P.R. v. Vancouver (City) (Court of Appeal for British Columbia 2004-04-07). Text
  4. ^ a b Ewert (2010), p. 5.
  5. ^ GVRD (1975), p.24
  6. ^ GVRD (1975), p.65
  7. ^ a b c d Ewert (2010), p. 6.
  8. ^ Castle (1989), p. 47-50.
  9. ^ Ewert (1986), p. 152.
  10. ^ Ewert (1986), p. 164.
  11. ^ Ewert (1986), p. 123.
  12. ^ Ewert (2010), p. 7.
  13. ^ a b c d Ewert (2010), p. 9.
  14. ^ Steveston Museum
  15. ^ Artefact


  • Castle, Geoffrey (1989). Saanich, An Illustrated History. The Corporation of the District of Saanich. (Also includes pictures of BCER railcars on this run from the Royal BC Museum collection)
  • Ewert, Henry (1986). The Story of the B.C. Electric Railway Company. 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 (PDF) (M.Urb. thesis). Simon Fraser University. Retrieved 2018-11-12.
  • Canadian Pacific Railroad v. Vancouver (City) (Court of Appeal for British Columbia 2004-04-07). Text

External links[edit]