Monday, June 24, 2019

From the Interurban to SkyTrain, an exclusive look at our transportation history from the West Coast Railway Association

This weekend, I visited the West Coast Railway Association’s Heritage Park with a friend. He arranged for an extended “railfan” tour which enabled us to see parts of their collection and facilities that is not general accessible.

Between 1910 and 1950, you could take an Interurban train between Downtown Vancouver and Chilliwack (via a transfer in New Westminster). The Langley City Station, known as Langley Prairie, was located near Fraser Highway and Glover Road in our Downtown. The Interurban service had a profound impact on our region’s development. If you look at the current SkyTrain network today, much of it mirrors the Interurban network.

If you want to experience what it was like to ride the Interurban, you can head to Cloverdale in the summer months and visit the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway Society. They offer several 1.5km rides on a restored Interurban during the weekends.

Beside providing passenger service, the railway also provided freight service. This freight service is still provided today by Southern Railway of BC. As a note, the railway through Langley City was redirect south along the Langley Bypass many years ago. Michaud Crescent was the original railway alignment.

Circling back, West Coast Railway Association volunteers are restoring some of the original electric freight locomotives used on that railway. The locomotive pictured below was built in 1912 and operated on the BC Electric Railway from 1946 until 1970.

BC Electric Railway Locomotive 960 being restoring. Select image to enlarge.

Skipping ahead several years, if you’ve ridden on SkyTrain, you’ve experienced the original SkyTrain cars. While the cars are functional, I certainly prefer the current generation of SkyTrain cars. Back in the 1990s, BC Transit (the precursor to TransLink in our region) was trying to figure out what the maximum dimensions could be for the next-generation SkyTrain cars. They built a mock-up that they towed behind the original Mark I cars to see if things would work out. This prototype (which had no motor/control system) helped inform the current dimensions of the second- and third-generation cars.

Front of Mark II prototype SkyTrain car. Select image to enlarge.

Side of Mark II prototype SkyTrain car. Select image to enlarge.

While not directly related to Metro Vancouver transportation, did you know that when the provincial government owned and operated BC Rail, they also operated a “Premier Car”? The Northern Summit would haul the Premier of BC in style from the Lower Mainland up to Northern BC. The car even included one of those traditional end-of-train platforms for politicians to wave to citizens with space for a dogwood flag to be draped over the end of the train. The Northern Summit needs extensive work, but luckily it is stored indoors to prevent further deterioration.

BC Rail Northern Summit car in storage. Select image to enlarge.

Our region and province have a rich history when it comes to rail-based transportation, and it was really interest for me to learn about some of that history this weekend.

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