Cloverdale’s heritage railway group was “caught off guard” by a recent Corporate Report that recommended changes to their lease agreement with the City of Surrey.
Surrey City Council voted 6-3 to move ahead with plans to negotiate a new lease with different conditions for the Fraser Valley Heritage Railway society (FVHRS).
City council passed Corporate Report R033—which recommended several changes from Heritage Rail’s former lease—at its regular meeting March 6. After some discussion, only councillors Linda Annis, Rob Stutt, and Gordon Hepner voted against the report.
Councillor Annis asked the the report be referred back to staff and tabled until the next city council meeting to give city reps time to meet with the FVHRS.
“The Heritage Rail folks were caught quite off guard with this,” Annis said at the meeting. “One of the fellows has been out of town and has just gotten back.”
Annis sits on the FVHRS board of directors as the City of Surrey liaison.
The city manager agreed, but questions were raised about the repercussions of proceeding without a lease. City staff noted their may be insurance issues and issues related to B.C. Hydro.
“They (FVHRS) have many questions and were quite alarmed when they received it,” Annis added. “It’s in their interests, and just in good faith, to allow them to meet and have their questions answered and to be able to properly read the report would be very beneficial.”
Mayor Brenda Locke disagreed on referring the report back to staff. She thought it best to move ahead.
“This is just to start that dialogue,” she explained. “It’s not that these are the terms necessarily; they’re being negotiated from this point forward.”
Councillor Mike Bose wanted to move forward with the Corporate Report as well. He noted the report was time sensitive as council was not meeting again until April.
“This is a very complex negotiation,” he said. “It hasn’t been done properly in the past. So I would support this moving forward as it’s written.”
Annis argued that FVHRS won’t be opening of a few months, so there was time.
But Bains disagreed, siding with Bose. “I see no value in sending this back and delaying even further.”
With the approved report, five main changes for FVHRS could include (as recommended): term reduced from five to four years with no renewal option; lease rate increase; maintenance will become the responsibility of FVHRS; utilities will become the responsibility of FVHRS; insurance for buildings will remain with the city, but contents and commercial liability will fall to the responsibility of FVHRS.
FVHRS operates Surrey’s heritage railway out of Cloverdale Station and the restoration car barn just south of Highway 10. The Society runs restored Interurban passenger rail cars on the Southern Railway track from Cloverdale Station to Sullivan Station.
It’s not clear what this means for the Heritage Rail Society going forward. The Cloverdale Reporter reached out to FVHRS secretary Allen Aubert for comment, but did not hear back by publication time.
Stephen Plant, director of guest experience for Heritage Rail, told the Reporter he did not know all the details of what the lease changes may mean, but thought the proposed changes to Heritage Rail’s lease (as written in Corporate Report R033) could have a big impact on the not-for-profit’s operations.
Plant said John Sprung, chairman of the board, and Aubert were at City Hall March 10 trying to get a better understanding of the situation and to look for ways to move forward.
“Obviously, the way that report came out, it didn’t sound so good,” Plant said.
In terms of the question of the railway paying for liability insurance, Plant noted that type of money isn’t in their budget.
“As far as I have heard, it can be $70-80,000, but I don’t know the number.” Plant explained.
“The city has always treated us really, really well and we’re hoping they continue to do that,” he added. “We had a good year last year and we’re anticipating and even better year this year. It’s great for the city.”
Read full Corporate Report on surrey.ca.
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