BC Historic Train Collection Faces Eviction, Seizure

Crown corporation-linked company wants railway society out of space in warehouse leased to Amazon.

By Andrew MacLeod 28 Sep 2017 |

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative bureau chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

A non-profit group will be in court next week fighting an attempt to have their historic railway cars removed from a New Westminster property leased to the internet giant Amazon.

“It’s a bit of a David and Goliath story,” said Stu McDonald, who describes himself as a friend of several members of the National Railway Historical Society. “I would not like to see the cars dispersed and not used anymore.”

According to a notice of civil claim filed in August 2016 by the numbered company 2725321 Canada Inc., the society has some 25 passenger and freight cars, including an engine, stored at a giant warehouse at 109 Braid Street. There are also tables, chairs, signs, tools, equipment and other material on the property.

The property was formerly a Woodward’s warehouse and has been owned by the numbered company since the mid-1990s. It is managed by QuadReal Property Group, a company the B.C. Investment Management Corporation launched in 2016 to manage its real estate investments.

The bcIMC is a Crown corporation that manages the pension funds of public servants, including teachers, police officers, firefighters and municipal and provincial government employees.

McDonald said in an email that as a retired teacher he is “outraged that my pension funds... are being so inappropriately misused.”

“If something isn’t done very quickly, B.C. will lose some of its priceless railway history!”

In a summary of the case, railway society president Barrie Sanders said the time to vacate the property was “extremely short” considering the rail cars had been there for about three decades and the difficulty finding a new home.

“There was and remains a total absence of comparable facilities in the Metro Vancouver area, even for rent,” he wrote.

Richard DeFilippi, the lawyer acting for the property owner, said there was little he could say while the case is before the court. “The property managers have been taking steps or trying to take steps with regards to the rail cars since as early as 2000,” he said.

Court filings say the landowner is seeking to have the society remove the rail cars. If they are not removed, it wants the court to allow it to sell them to cover the relocation costs.

“They are unique in the sense they’re massive, they weigh a lot,” said DeFilippi, adding that he understands they can be removed using a crane to load them onto flatbed trucks.

He said Amazon is a tenant on the property and there may be potential for redevelopment.

“I don’t know what the plans are vis-a-vis Amazon,” he added. “It’s not part of the legal proceedings.”

A call to QuadReal was not returned Wednesday afternoon.

A court date is set for Oct. 3 in Vancouver.

McDonald, who was a major-general in the Canadian Armed Forces and is the president of two military museum societies, said there were plans to use the rail cars for a cross-country “Veterans Homecoming Train” exhibit that would have traveled from Halifax to Vancouver next year.

He said the exhibit, now jeopardized by the threatened eviction, would have been “Moving in the sense it’s mobile, but also quite moving emotionally.”

“Canadians should be outraged that an important heritage collection of railway equipment faces auction and dispersion instead of the continuation of commemorative train displays, community access and utilization by the BC film industry,” he wrote.

The society has little money and is looking for a pro bono lawyer, he said.  [Tyee]

Read more: Transportation

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