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The Great Northern Sea Line Route

Information selected from Ken Atkey's unpublished essay "The Sea Level Route"
Contributions of information and photos by Jack Berry

The first railway through Surrey was the New Westminster Southern. This was a subsidiary company of the Great Northern. It's northern terminus was Brownsville (below the present Skytrain bridge over the Fraser). The CPR monopoly clause had prevented any railway construction across the Fraser River. The ending of the monopoly provisions in 1902 led to the construction of the New Westminster Rail and Road bridge.

New Westminster Rail Bridge Construction of New West rail bridge

The site selected for the bridge was between New Westminster and Brownsville. The sections were built at Port Mann and floated down the Fraser and moved into position.
New Westminster Rail Bridge

The New Westminster Rail Bridge provided a crossing for both the Great Northern Sea line route and the New Westminster Southern. The upper deck was for vehicle traffic that came off the Yale and Semiahmoo Roads.


Planning, for at least part of the route, was announced in 1903. Cloverdale was the centre of construction for the Blaine - Westminster line. Since the Nicomekl and Serpentine rivers were deemed navigable two bridges were to be built. Two manually operated wooden, swing bridges were constructed. They could be opened by two men walking around a capstan. The Serpentine crossing was replaced by a fixed trestle, the Nicomekl by another swing span. The sea line opened March 15, 1909.Both bridges were destroyed by fire sometime in the 1920s. 

First train along Sealine route

This is the engine of the first train to run the completed Sea line route. The crew and dignitaries are posed before engine 954.


Blaine had a turntable, a 3,000 ft. siding, and a city dock spur. On the Canadian side there was a 2,604 ft. pile trestle bridge over Campbell Creek, but by 1919 that was filled at both ends to a 80 ft. bridge. The Campbell River Lumber Company had a spur to its mill west of the Campbell River Trestle. White Rock originally had a 12x34 ft. depot and same sized customs building. The present 30x80 ft. depot (now housing the White Rock Museum and Archives), with a immigration detention building, was built in 1912 and the old depot was made into a freight shed.

GNR train at White Rock station

The White Rock Station was built in 1912 to replace a smaller station. The Station was given to the City of White Rock after passenger service ended and it was moved back from the track frontage.


Originally Ocean Park did not have a station, but sympathetic engineers would stop on the flag for passengers and mail. In 1913, the people of Ocean Park demanded and got a shelter shed station.

Ocean Park shed station

The Ocean Park shed station is pictured just past the Ocean Park sign. This picture was taken in the 1920s. The station was located near the bottom of the present day "1001 Steps".


Crescent Beach Station was established in 1909 with a shelter shed for a station. The first extensive depot was built in 1921. It was remodeled in 1944 with an open waiting room and a closed freight room. That was replaced in 1961 with a 10x12 ft. shelter shed from Colebrook.

Crescent Beach Station 1928

This picture of Crescent Station was taken by Jack Berry around 1931. The station was located on the present site of Heron Park at 12324 Beecher Street. This is at the junction of Beecher Street and the railway crossing.


In 1912, north of Crescent Station, the Campbell River Lumber spur was put in. Part of it was removed in 1926 and the remainder in 1952. The bridge over the Nicomekl River had a 240 ft. wooden swing span and 1500 ft. of timber approaches. The Serpentine River bridge had a 240 ft. swing span and 2699 ft. of timber approaches.

GNR observation car at Crescent Beach

This picture is of the observation car on the Great Northern passenger train as it leaves Crescent Station and crosses Crescent Road on its approach to the Nicomekl trestle.

Swing span at Nicomekl River

This picture was taken by Frank Laronde, circa 1934. A Great Northern freight is proceeding south and has just crossing the Nicomekl swing span and trestle.


Colebrook station, established as Bayside in 1903, was renamed Colebrook in 1909. It had two sidings over a half mile long, a section house, a 24x24 ft, depot (replaced by a 10x16 ft. shelter shed in 1941). There was a wye at each end of the yard for the Guichon to Cloverdale line.


North of Colebrook there were two logging spurs added in 1912 and 1920 and the Delta Shingle spur in 1913. A station called Townsend was about a half mile south of the present River Road crossing. It had a 3,000 ft. siding, a section house, a 10x16 ft. shelter shed station and a work train spur. St. Mungo Cannery had a spur put in a couple of miles north in 1917. Four miles further on it connected with the New Westminster rail bridge.


The Great Northern and later Burlington Northern continued to operate a passenger train from Seattle to Vancouver until April 30th, 1971. May 1st was the day Amtrak was formed and they dropped the service. Service was reinstated in February 1973 with one train a day. Currently that level of service continues.

Steam train going south

This picture, taken in the late 1940's by Jim Brown, shows a Great Northern freight train pulled by a steam locomotive heading south from White Rock to Blaine. The Campbell River is in the foreground, along with the old bridge from the Campbell River Saw Mill. The view is over what is now Semiahmoo Ball Park. The picture is taken from the roof of 838 Stevens Street.

Last passenger train

Pop Taylor stands in front of the engine of the last regular local passenger service train. This picture was taken by Margaret Hastings at the GNR terminus in Vancouver.


The history of the Great Northern Sea line Route was not without incident. In March 1946, a train was proceeding south. A trainman, on a speeder, had checked the tracks only minutes before the train hit the slide. Most other potential slide areas were equipped with slide fences that would have given a warning if a slide came down. However, this location was not considered dangerous.

Ocean Park slide

The rain soaked hillside was not considered dangerous but the weight of water soaked earth brought the hillside across the tracks. The vibrations of the southbound train triggered the slide. The newspaper article in the Surrey Leader on March 7, 1946 "A second mud slide on Saturday morning just north of Ocean Park, delayed the G.N.R. morning train which left Vancouver for Seattle.  The first slide, on Thursday afternoon, caused a serious wreck.  The freight train which was southbound from Vancouver was sideswiped by a slide from the rain-soaked high bank.  The heavy engine and five loaded box cars were shoved into the rocks edging the tide flats.  The engine bore the brunt and was carried onto the rocks where it lies with it's back broken.  Its crew of three had a narrow escape from death or serious injury.  Three others of the train crew were in the caboose.  All suffered slight injuries.   The wreckage is a mess of trees, heavy timbers, lumber and shingles.  One car contained whisky from New Westminster for thirsty Americans and was left intact.  On looking up the steep bank from when the slide came, a house could be seen perched precariously on the edge, apparently just ready to come down.  It is still there, though a second slide occurred on Saturday.  By that time, repair crews had constructed a line to bypass the wreck and now a part of this will have to be rebuilt.  Meantime, passengers are carried to White Rock by bus and transferred to southbound trains and northbound traffic is similarly continued.

Every year slides cause trouble on this line but usually nearer to the point south of Ocean Park.  Of late years, these have not seriously inconvenienced the railway, but some years ago a similar mishap dereailed the engine and killed the engineer and it took a week to clear the track of thick deposit of mud and rocks. "

GNR engine derailed GNR derailment
Derailed box car Derailed box car

When the train hit the slide there was a lot of bumping and grinding. The engineer was blowing his whistle, continuously three short blasts, from the time the train hit the slide until it was laying on the beach. Two trainmen sustained minor injuries.
Next Page: Limited beach access

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