Growing up on the West side of Vancouver back in the '80s and '90s the trains along the Arbutus corridor were a part of every day life. Back then a little switcher loco hauled a few grain cars back and forth between the Marpole sorting yard and the Molson brewery down on Burrard street. Tiny little trains with usually only one or two grain cars plus the occasional caboose would journey down the track usually mid day, then head back down to Marpole in reverse. More than a few times I recall seeing a couple kids jump on the ladder on the back of a grain car rather than wait for the #14 (at the time) bus to head down towards Kits.
Back then I used to ride along side the track on my Norco to get from Kerrisdale down to the Burrard Bridge, do a few loops of the Stanley Park Seawall and then head back the way I came home. The route was always a little hairy in parts - besides needing to keep your eyes open for trains you needed to watch for broken glass, smashed up discard household goods, LOTS of blackberry vines plus the usual rocks and things you'd find around a railroad track. A somewhat well worn single track along the east side of the rail lines provided a solid route between 37th and 16th plus you could USUALLY squeeze your way through the lower parts of the line right to Burrard, depending on how aggressive the blackberry bushes were that particular year and how recently the railway had hacked away at them.
The Arbutus line was part of the BC Electric Railway Interurban system running from Vancouver out to Stevenson. BCER began operations along this line in 1905 when Vancouver was only 19 years old; the route was chosen to be the absolute easiest route for trains at a time when trees and rocks were the only obstacles - you really can't find a better way to get up the prominent ridge the crosses Vancouver from UBC all the way to the water in New West. What's that mean for us cyclists? Way less hills!
Over the past few weeks we've had some opportunities to try the route out despite it still being very definitely under construction. You can get on to the right-of-way down by Granville Island and then pedal your way straight across the city down to the former Fraser Arms on Granville. Of course at the moment there's no crossing signals, there's plenty of concrete dividers you need to find your way around and you absolutely won't be wanting to even think of trying the ride without some good quality puncture resistant tires (in fact every single person in our group without armoured tires ended up with a flat on our last ride). As of last weekend, here's what you can expect:
We'll definitely be riding this one lots through the rest of the season - paving is scheduled to be complete some time in September. For me the nostalgia of riding this route with gravel, rocks and random attacking blackberry vines like when I was a kid will keep me tackling it regularly in the meantime. Stay tuned for an official TCR interurban ride on our 2017 calendar!