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British Columbia Electric Railway Reporting mark: BCER

Rail car on Vancouver street
BC Electric Rail, Vancouver, 1949
Photo: Fred Matthews

The British Columbia Electric Railway (BCER) was an interurban electric railway formed in 1897. The railway's origins lay in the Vancouver Railway and Lighting Company, a street railway, started around 1890.

Financed largely with British capital, the company was formed by Francis Barnard and Robert Horne-Payne, a British financier. The company was reorganized a number of times under several different names before settling on BCER in 1897. Within a couple of weeks, they had taken control of the electric rail systems in New Westminster, Vancouver and Victoria.

The company's major goal was to run the entire railway using electricity, rather than steam. To accomplish this, they needed to produce their own source of electrical power. This led to the development of an electric plant at Buntzen Lake in 1903, followed by a second plant at Stave Falls. The main purpose of these plants was to provide electricity to power the railway.

At its height, BCER provided interurban service on three lines covering a large portion of southern BC. The company also provided municipal transit service in Greater Vancouver and Victoria. BCER grew to become one of the most extensive electric railways in the world.

In 1961, the BC Electric Railway was taken over by the newly-formed BC Hydro, a publicly owned utility. The line was fully dieselized by 1970. BC Hydro continued operating the railway until 1988, when it was sold to the US-based Itel Rail Group. Shortly after that, it was renamed the Southern Railway of British Columbia (SRY). As part of the deal, both the province and BC Hydro retained the rights to reintroduce passenger service.

Today a portion of BCER's former right-of-way is in use by Vancouver's SkyTrain rapid transit system. SRY, which is now owned by URS, continues to provide freight service, along the old BCER route.