May 102013
 
Princeton BC railway line

Setting the time machine back to August 1989, you’ll find me in Princeton BC looking at the remains of the old rail line that passed through here. Abandoned only months before my visit, all of the track remained in place as though waiting for a train to come. And the jewel of the site was the old train station, which say empty and boarded up. Fortunately it survives, although that comes with it’s own downside, it being clad in ugly siding and housing a fast food establishment (the humanity).

After working almost non-stop, six days a week or more for most of that year, I decided it was time for a road trip and took a month off, travelling aimlessly here and there across BC and Alberta. I brought along my trusty Yashica FR2 and set on my way, with the subject of this report being my first stop.

Although this line saw its last train earlier that year, all the infrastructure was still in place. Only after my visit would the tracks be torn up. Once a busy line, by the time it was abandoned only a few customers remained, including one sawmill in Princeton and trains operated a couple times a week. Trucks syphoned away business and it just become too unprofitable to operate the line – a common scenario for these types of lines.

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The yard sat on the bench between the Similkameen River and town, butting up against a small hill in the west. There were lots of sidings here although they were so overgrown as to be hard to see. In addition, a balloon track circled the yard. This would be used to turn around a locomotive or perhaps snowplow. Off that track, by the river, one could see remains of the old Copper Mountain branch line and some old piers and signs of a grade could be seen. It formerly served the very large copper mine situated just west of Princeton. That track was torn up in the 1950s.

I recall as a kid in the 1970s, seeing long strings of wood chip hoppers or bulkhead flats (for lumber) sitting on the balloon track when passing through Princeton. The highway went above the yard, giving one a clear view of its layout. Back then business was much better and many rail cars could be seen – a stark contrast to the empty yard I photographed.

The track here was once part of the CPR Southern Mainline, a torturous and circuitous route that travelled from Medicine Hat Alberta to Vancouver. Once a busy section it slowly reverted to branch line status over time as sections of it were abandoned. Only parts in eastern BC remain, terminating at Trail BC. It was just too difficult a railway to run.

Located just west of the yard is a tunnel which ducks under the highway, before emerging on the other side by the Tulameen River. A date on it says 1961, which was when it was concrete lined not when it was built. It’s much older than that.

Today, this old grade has been converted to the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, parts of which are also the Trans Canada Trail. It’s linear long distance recreation route encompassing many abandoned rail lines in the south central parts of BC. This is on my bucket list.

I enjoy shooting the old track (an odd subject I know) and wander about imagining busier days when trains travelled the line and this yard was busy. It’s easy to visualize a heavy freight heading out laden with forest products and ore from the various mines in the region. I also think about the times when passenger trains travelled the line, a service which ended in the 1960s. It must have been a spectacular trip, albeit a loooong slow one.

Heading away from the yard, I come across the train station looking forlorn and forgotten. This simple structure was originally built by the Vancouver, Victoria & Eastern Railway, a subsidiary the American Great Northern line, which came in from Washington State to tap the riches of the area. The station we see dates from 1909 and with the later arrival of the CPR in 1915, that company would share this building with it’s rival – along with the yard and other trackage in the area. These two rail companies would often be fierce competitors, yet at other time would cooperate like this. I WISH I had shot more pictures of this building.

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For a time, the two railways coexisted, with the CPR taking over everything we see in this report, the rail yard and station, after the VV&E pulled out in the mid 1930s. That company slowly retrenched back to the US, its ambitions to usurp traffic from the CPR proving unsuccessful.

It’s assumed the station served as such until the closing of the line to passenger traffic in the mid 1960s. From that point on one can only guess what it may have been used for – for storage for materials, a bunkhouse for railway crews perhaps. Who knows?

By the time of my visit it was boarded up. Later, at some undetermined point, it was re-clad and now houses a Subway Restaurant (is calling that chain a restaurant a bit of a stretch?) and a Booster Juice. This is NOT a fitting role for such an historical building, which (IMO) should have been saved and restored to its former glory. It survives though, and I guess that’s good at least.

Looking at Google Earth today not much is left of the old yard. It’s long stripped of it tracks and some parts have been built over. I was so glad I had the chance to document it before it was obliterated – I wish I took more pictures though. This area is so full of history and I’d love to return.

These pictures were scanned from 35mm slides

On this same road trip I visited Rosebery BC to check out the isolated CPR Nakusp branch where trains were brought in by barge. To see that report, go here…
Rosebery BC railways barge slip.

To see some other railway archaeology themed posts, follow these links…
CPR’s BIG Hill revisited.
Unfinished Canadian Northern Railway line Fort MacLeod.

If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!

Date: August, 1989
Location: Princeton, BC.

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Princeton BC train station

Princeton’s old train station in 1989, empty and boarded up.

Princeton BC rail yard

There was actually an extensive yard here, all grown over like this.

Princeton BC railway line

This route is now a rail trail.

Princeton BC railway

These tracks would be pulled up not long after my visit.

Copper Moutain branch

Remains of the Copper Mountain branch.

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17 Comments on "Princeton BC train station and rail yard"

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J Jolene
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J Jolene

I work next to the Subway in Princeton and I never even knew it was a train station. They really should have saved it for the museum, it’s so ugly now.

Wendy
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Wendy

I ache inside when see photos like yours. I wasn’t around for the era of passenger trains and local freights serving small towns everywhere, and yet I feel as if I somehow was there. Car travel was still an adventure over much of the land, while trains and paddlewheelers provided luxury and comfort for decades. Towns were far apart, not stretching for each other with sprawling suburbs and linked with freeways and the Internet. I miss a time a never knew…

Bruce Harvey
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Visiting your blog has been an interesting trip down memory lane. I spent my working life with CN, but I travelled a lot in BC and Alberta in the 60’s and 70’s. This, of course was during a period when Princeton, Penticton, the Arrow Lakes and the Okanagan saw a great deal of rail activitiy. When I say “rail”, I also reference tug and barge service. Mining and forest industries brought rails into more remote areas and towns grew.

Wendy (August 16 2013) said it well when she observed that some of your photos cause the heart to ache. That’s what a good journalist does and you’ve done it well. Thanks.

Ross Lillie
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Ross Lillie

Good site. Someone has to keep our heritage in the forefront, now that Bill Barlee is gone. After the KVR tracks were torn up, in the summer of 1992 my wife and I drove as much of the KVR as we could. We covered almost everything from Spences Bridge to Peachland that wasn’t blocked. Included Spukunne Cr trestle, upper Trout Cr (both since removed). Also drove over Belleview Cr. trestle, and down by Arlington Lks.

Brad Wickham
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Brad Wickham

Yes, I agree the old train station should have been donated to Princeton Museum and cleaned up as it was. I have many memories of arriving by passenger train early 1960 or 1961. I was 2 or 3 years old at that time. My grandparents lived across from the train station. Lots of train action memories when Princeton was a busy small town.
Thanks

Lenin-McCarthy
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Lenin-McCarthy

I remember.

corey d
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corey d

So sad to see the tracks in that state, in place but disused.

Danny Gauvin
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Danny Gauvin

It’s sad to see all that gone. I wish I could go back in time to enjoy railfanning in the south Okanagan and Samilkameen.

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