27 May 2006
City Gets Heritage Tram for $400,000
Richmond - The City of Richmond has agreed to pay $400,000 to the society it launched legal action against to gain ownership of the historic interurban tram #1220.
In an out-of-court settlement with the Steveston Interurban Restoration Society announced Thursday, the city claimed it now has full ownership of the tram and will move it to Britannia Heritage Shipyard. There it will be restored for a permanent static display.
"By securing full ownership of the tram the city has assured the tram will permanently remain in our city," said Mayor Malcolm Brodie at a press conference in front of the yellow tram barn in Steveston Park.
The fate of the "Sockeye Special," which ran until 1958 from Steveston to Vancouver, has been up in the air for several years.
The restoration society has spent thousands of hours restoring the tram and planned to move it to Surrey when its members realized Richmond wasn't prepared to provide a track for it.
In 2004, the city filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court claiming part ownership of the tram to block the society's plan. Brodie said "it was unfortunate" the city had to go to court to prevent the tram from being shipped across the river.
Within six months, the tram is expected to be moved from its current home in Steveston Park to a new car barn at Britannia. It will be pulled out along 120 feet of track, being donated by A&B Rail, for special events.
City staff reviewed other potential sites, including near the Olympic oval, but Brodie said Britannia is ideal because it's in Steveston, it fits with an existing heritage site and the city already owns the land.
Apart from its original mechanics, the tram is about 80 percent restored, according to the restoration society. Brodie said the city will now plan to finish the job with the possible help of a federal heritage grant and volunteers - but not the restoration society.
Society chair Michel Brisebois said Thursday both sides have agreed to the deal, but it has yet to be finalized. If the deal is concluded, society members will then decide what to do with the $400,000, which Brisebois said represents the appraised value of the tram.
Brisebois said the society was forced into settling with the city, which he said never provided evidence it owned the tram.
"They had no claim on the tram, but we can't keep fighting them in court. It costs too much money. So the only option for us is to settle," he said.
"It's just an ego game. For the right price they got it. We can do something else with that (money)."
Brisebois said he plans to continue on the "acquisition trail" for another tram.
He declined how many members the society currently has, but its 2005 charity information return lists six other directors and officials: John Jackson, Lois West, Donna Thomson, Rick Wise, Tony Miletich, and Bob Smith.
In a 5-4 vote last year, council turned down the suggestion of routing the tram in Steveston after residents produced a flurry of reasons why a railcar shouldn't rumble through their neighbourhoods.
"We got fed up here because nobody wanted to have it run (in Steveston). I could see why, the costs and everything," said Brisebois. "They had the tracks at one time and ripped them up. So we decided the best thing for it was to go somewhere where there were tracks."
Bob Ransford, a member of the Richmond Heritage Railroad Society that formed two years ago to raise funds and operate a heritage railroad, called the deal "preposterous" and another example of the "countless incompetent decisions" the city has made.
"There seems to be an open tap at city hall, and whenever the city wants to accomplish something or try and solve a problem, the money flows. There's no accountability, there's no rationale, there's no consistency, there's no vision."
Ransford said many societies have formed as a result of city activities, and their members haven't asked for compensation for the time they've put in. With the tram deal, other groups such as the Britannia Heritage Shipyard Society and the Friends of the Archives could take similar action.
"To try and resolve this by simply throwing money at a group of volunteers who contributed time to a city project, what's the next project they're going to do that on?"
Ransford blamed mismanagement for leaving the city with a $400,000 bill for something they already owned, a group of and discouraged tram volunteers and another discouraged group of volunteers willing to front a heritage railroad.
"We're no further to taking that artifact, that all this money and effort has gone into, and making it valuable to leverage all the other investments the city made in heritage sites throughout Steveston. That was the whole objective," he said.
As for whether the tram will run again, the mayor, who voted against giving up on a running tram along with councillors Harold Steves, Linda Barnes and Sue Halsey-Brandt, said council has "fully canvassed" the issue.
"The decision has been made that it will be a static display. I'm disappointed with that decision, but I think we need to go forward and make our plans," Brodie said.
But not everyone is prepared to give up the fight. Graham Turnbull, chair of the Richmond Heritage Commission, said now the challenge is figuring out how to integrate a running tram in the fishing village.
"Somehow or another we have got to come up with a method of displaying the tram that will satisfy as many people as possible and will do much to enhance Steveston to tourists and other residents."
Vic Sharman, 83, a Richmond resident who drove the tram for two years in the late 1940s for B.C. Electric, also wants to see the train ride the rails again.
"I hope they can get it operating, because it's more meaningful if you can see them running. It was a very good form of transit at that time, it was really the early form of rapid transit."
Railroad society chair Ron Schuss, who daily walks the route the tram was proposed to run, also remains optimistic. Schuss, 71, used to ride the tram to school.
"It's still our wish that it operate on weekends in the spring and summertime and be a community resource in the Steveston area."
Coun. Harold Steves suggested the Steveston Harbour Authority is likely to modernize its waterfront industrial area. He suggested the city's land in the area could house a railroad.
Dave Fairweather, who presented council with 1,200 signatures against a tram railroad two years ago, said residents have clearly expressed they don't want a running tram in Steveston. The city should have let the tram go to Surrey, he said.
"Now you think of the kind of costs we're talking about just for beginners - $400,000 is going to be an awful lot of money, let alone what the city is prepared to spend for a long term plan."
St. Louis Car Company built the Interurban tram #1220 in 1913.
For 45 years it carried passengers, primarily on the Steveston interurban line.
Interurban service was eventually discontinued to an aging fleet and competition from buses and cars.
Tram #1220 last rode the rails in 1958.
It was purchased from the Royal British Columbia Museum for $1 in 1993.
Since 1995 the tram has been housed in Steveston Park.
Tram #1220 is one of at least seven remaining interurban cars. Most were destroyed for scrap.