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How the Rule of the Road was changed in British Columbia 1922

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Mow the
life of tlte feai
was changed in
Eritisli CsliiiMa
JANUARY i 1922
 UNTIL 6:00 a.m. on January 1, 1922, coastal
British Columbia, practically alone on the
North American Continent, "kept to the left."
The custom probably originated in the days when the
Province was a British crown colony and the British
rule of the road remained even after the inclusion of
the, Province in the Canadian federation.
For reasons which have no place in this story,
the government of British Columbia several years
ago decided to conform to the traffic rule prevailing
in the rest of the continent. On July 1, 1920, the
right-hand rule of the road was put into effect in
all of British Columbia with the exception of the coast
region, which contains all the large cities. That
part was excepted on account of the mechanical
changes necessary by the British Columbia Electric
Railway Company in Vancouver, Victoria and New
Westminster, as well as on its interurban lines, the
whole comprising a system of 866 miles of track.
The heavy expense involved was another deterrent, but a basis being finally agreed upon, the date
of January 1, 1922, was finally fixed. A preliminary
statement of the cost of the change for the work
done up to the end of December, 1921, as rendered to
the government of the province showed an expenditure of approximately $250,000.00,
which was only a small fraction of
the estimated total. The single item
of special steel for cross-overs and
other  track   work   on   the  mainland
Pagt Tw
 amounted to no less than $70,000.00 delivered. It is
the arrangement with the government of British
Columbia that it will pay for half the cost of the
change, provided that half does not amount to more
than $350,000.00.
The problem was one which no district had ever
tackled before. As the vehicular traffic could be
changed in a moment, that constituted no difficulty.
Not so the street cars and the tracks. The problem,
therefore, resolved itself into one for the British
Columbia Electric Railway Company.
How were the street cars to be made into right-
hand cars, to be ready for operation on January 1 ?
How could alterations be made while the service was
still running? How could right-hand cars be operated on the streets before the change took place? How
could the tracks be changed overnight? Would the
switches take the cars in the opposite direction ?
These were questions to which the B. C. Electric organization gave thought for many months
before work actually began. The departments vitally
affected were these:
The   mechanical   department,   which   had   to   make   the
alterations in  the cars;
The maintenance-of-way  department, which had to make
alteration in the tracks and  the stations;
The electrical department, which had to
change the overhead wiring;
The   traffic   department,   which  had  to
train its personnel.
P*g* Yhree
 The work centered as regards the mainland at
Vancouver, and as regards the Vancouver Island
system, at Victoria. It is proposed to deal in this
booklet with only the mainland system.
It was, of course, impossible to change cars for
the right-hand rule completely. Temporary, or at
any rate partial, changes had to be made, and these
made so quickly that a minimum of cars would be
removed from service. It was also essential that cars
so removed for alterations be returned to service as
soon as possible. No time could be spared for allowing paint to dry; for that reason, all parts were
made separately and  painted  before put together.
The scheme adopted was to open the right-hand
side of all platforms and to board up these openings
temporarily, while retaining the left-hand doors for
use until the change took place. Arrangements had to
be'made to effect all changes in a few minutes. After
the change, the rest of the work could go ahead,
such as removing the left-hand gates, steps, and permanently boarding up the openings.
The mechanical department on the mainland
had to deal with 177 single I cars; 68 double-end
cars ;    5 snow sweepers;    2 city snow plows.
The work on these cars was performed   at   the   Prior   Street   shops,
ill these  being   most   centrally  located.
On   account  of  the   congested   state
of   these   shops   and   the   additional
Page ¥»ur
 space required, three tracks in the adjacent car
barns were taken over. Five tracks, with storage
space for 30 cars, were accordingly laid on the
second storey of the Mount Pleasant car barns, to
store cars thus displaced. This greatly facilitated
the work at Prior Street.
In work of this sort, depending so largely upon
speed, it was necessary to have a thoroughly-trained
organization. Previous to work being started on
the cars, all barn foremen were notified by letter
of the importance and necessity of having all cars
ordered in, placed on the desired tracks in Prior
Street shops so that the carpenters would not be
tied up by having to wait for cars to work on.
A start was made with a test car on May 1,
1921. The blind side of the rear vestibule was taken
out, the channel-iron sub-sill was reinforced and
moved back toward the centre of the platform
to allow for the new step openings, new steps were
installed and the dividing post put in to separate
entrance and exit. As soon as this operation had
been completed, the new right-hand steps were covered over with a wooden plank on a level with
the floor of the platform, the side boarded up temporarily and the windows replaced. At the front
end of the car, the blind side was
torn out and a new door fitted in,
folding steps installed (but, of
course, without the operating mechanism, which could not be installed
Page Five
until the change to right-hand drive was made).
Another car of a different type was then brought in
and the same process gone through.
There are 65 cars of these two types and the
plan adopted was to make patterns of each part and
order material in large quantities, ready-made. Here
the purchasing department came into play.
The largest items of expenditure were incurred
in the purchase of track material, such as frogs,
cross-overs, switches and special work. New plans
and surveys had to be made and these plans approved
by the provincial government engineers before any
action could be taken. After this it was necessary to
submit the plans to the city engineer for approval
and this caused a further delay before tenders could
be called for and quotations obtained, and it was not
until August 10 that the first order could be placed
with the steel mills in the United States, where it was
necessary to obtain this material in which manganese
steel was largely used. This delay, combined with
the fact that delivery had to be made for the most
part on a special date, caused considerable additional
expense and the nature of the work necessitated that
special care should be observed to avoid any error,
which would seriously delay the work of changing
In changing the vestibules of the
cars, a large number of new patterns
had to be made in connection with
the  operating gates and  these  had
Page Si*
 to be made of cast steel and all orders were placed
with a local engineering works to be filled. Orders
were also placed on local sash and door firms for
approximately 350 folding doors, panels and window frames and sashes to the value of $2,000.00.
Complete sets of snow sweeper castings and
operating parts for right-hand drive had to be
obtained from the makers of the snow sweepers in
Ottawa for the five snow sweepers in Vancouver and
one in Victoria.
In addition to the large amount of overhead
material, trolley frogs, insulators, copper and guy
wire, etc., twelve electric track switches at the main
track crossings in the city had to be changed over
and the material for the latter items alone amounted
to over $1,200.00. Many tons of angle iron, special
plates and rods, as well as large quantities of paint,
nails, screws, etc., and thousands of feet of lumber
were ordered from and supplied by local firms and
the purchase of this material, calling for tenders and
procuring quotations for same caused a considerable
amount of extra work in the purchasing department alone, apart from the work of attending to
the customs clearance and delivery before a specified date.
By the time materials began, to
arrive, the carpenter shop and the
blacksmith shop were ready. Additional carpenters were engaged
gradually until work was going on
Page Seven
 rapidly. As soon as work on one class of car
was well under way, a car of another class was
brought in, and, after being stripped and its
requirements known, all the woodwork and ironwork was made ready and painted so that it would
be dry when placed on cars. With this system of
mass production, all parts required for cars could
be turned out more quickly and cheaply, and there
was no danger of men or cars being held up for
certain parts. Cars could also be sent back on the
streets a few minutes after leaving the carpenters'
hands, no time being wasted while paint was
To give an idea of how the work went on, it may
be said that 30 of the 200 class cars were finished
in three weeks; 30 of the 326 class in two weeks; 35
of the 241 class in two weeks and 15 of the 260
class in about 10 days.
The 300 class cars were started on November
14, and up to the end of the year, 16 out of 25
were permanently reversed, it being feasible to
operate these on the left-hand with only slight
inconvenience to  the public.
During all the work from May 1 to December
31, the system was never in a position
when it could not fill the maximum
demands of cars for the city service.
The usual routine of maintenance
work on cars was carried on as usual,
Page Eight
 fp m f rr i n i ii a imimiJdnmS^^
despite the unusual conditions in the shops. A total
of 51 city, and 47 interurban cars went through the
shops for wheels and overhauling during the period,
as well as a number of cars for accidents caused by
collisions with vehicles and for other car ailments.
Equal in importance and urgency to the changes
in the cars were the changes in the tracks, new crossovers, derails, electric switches, points and springs
in switches. As early as 1913, estimates had been
made of the cost of making these changes and final
plans were prepared at the beginning of 1921.
It must be explained that all over the system
there are "cross-overs" to enable a car to get from
one track to another. For obvious reasons the
entrance to that cross-over must be such that a car
does not take the cross-over when proceeding along
the straight track, otherwise it might "split" the
points. When the rule of the road changed, those
cross-overs which were adjusted for left-hand traffic
therefore had to be changed. Unfortunately, this
meant ripping out the entire special work and scrapping most of it, the switches and mates being of no
further use. Similarly, tracks leading out of the car
barns brought cars formerly to the left-hand tracks.
Unless these were changed, cars would have to go
through laborious switching in order
to be reversed, a procedure which did
delay service materially the first few
days until the tracks were changed.
Again certain "Y's" were not good
Page Nine
 for right-hand as well as left-hand operation. In
this case, special work had to be ordered.
Briefly, the work of the maintenance-of-way department on the mainland under the original programme was this:
Take up and lay with new material, 33 permanent and 6 temporary track cross-overs; take up and
relay wye layouts; change electric switches; change
derails; change elevation of interurban tracks on
curves; change location of 24 platforms and stations
on Central Park interurban line. An idea of the
cost may be gained from the fact that the reversing
of cross-overs cost about $4,000 each and of wyes,
about $10,000.00 each.
This work entailed the ordering of large quantities of special work. For the mainland system alone
these orders were placed early in 1921:
16 new   standard  cross-overs  complete.
3 new "Y" layouts complete.
2 new special cross-overs complete.
1 new layout for Cedar Cottage loop.
1 new layout for Union Street spur.
9 new sets of switches and mates for open track crossovers.
It is  impossible  to  use  a left-hand  switch or
mate for a right-hand turnout from a straight track,
so more switches and mates will be
required.    This track work will not
be finished before December 1, 1922.
During the latter part of 1921
one permanent cross-over was com-
Petg» Tm
 pleted in reversed position; sixteen electric switches
were installed in new positions and the ground work
completed. They were not connected up with the
electric contactor until the morning of January  1.
There remained considerable work to be done
on the night of December 31, 1921, before cars
started operation at 6 o'clock the following morning.
All cross-overs not previously reversed had to
be plugged with wood or a rubber block.
Facing points not attached to switchbox mechanism had to be plugged or mechanism connected.
Whistle posts, crossing signs, etc., on Central
Park line had to be placed in new locations.
At one o'clock in the morning of January 1,
1922, four gangs of men started working in four
different sections of Vancouver City. Each gang
was in charge of a competent foreman and the foremen were under the direction of the roadmaster. The
entire organization was under the engineer-of-way.
Gangs of men are now at work putting in
reversed permanent cross-overs and reversed permanent wyes.
Another department affected was the electrical
department, which has charge of the
overhead wires, the electric switches
and so forth. Before the change took
place, this department did considerable work in  renewing trolley wire,
Page Eleven
especially on grades where the change would mean
that previously a car ran down hill, taking little
power, whereas, after the change, it would take more
power. In such places the trolley wire had got thin
and had to be replaced with thicker wire.
In conjunction with the track department, the
electrical work on as many electric switches as possible was done. Contacts for these switches were
actually installed ready for switching over in a
Even the skip-stop signs painted on the poles
had to be relocated. This work required several
weeks, and cost nearly $500.00.
The time of the change was chosen as 6 o'clock
in the morning, as at that time there would be a
minimum of traffic on the street. For several days
previously, the various departments of the company
organized themselves for a quick change.
On the cars, the work consisted of removing the
temporary barricade on the right-hand side, tying
up the gates on the left-hand side and blocking up
the front left-hand exit door.
Cars began to come into the barns early in the
evening of December 31. Stripping started at 8:30
o'clock that night, and by 5:30 the next morning,
by working continuously, all cars
were finished. It had been expected
that the left-hand side would be left
IH open for several days, until it could
be closed in, but before the men quit
Page Twelve
 work to go home to sleep, 62 cars had had the barricade placed on the left side, thus keeping the draught
out of the back vestibules. By Tuesday, January 3,
at 10 a.m., all cars had had the left side of vestibules closed.
The electrical department had its linemen organized and furnished with three extra tower wagons,
built upon trucks. It was proposed to make as many
changes as possible during the night, but owing to
the short time between the passing of the last car and
the first car, little could be done that night.
By working steadily after the change, most of principal points were adjusted by noon on January 1. The
newness of the change brought out some peculiar
features in connection with the overhead work, as
well as other work. The electric track switches were
new and caused a great deal of trouble, due to want
of adjustment, it having been impossible to test and
adjust them beforehand.
The frogs and curves gave trouble for several
weeks after but when it is considered that frogs and
curves require months and perhaps years of adjusting, to change and run in the opposite direction with
the slight delays that were experienced, reflected
credit on  the line department.
For the first two days, no difficulty was experienced and #cars remained on time, but in the rush hour
on Tuesday, the service fell behind
for one or two reasons.    To under-
Page Thirteen
stand them  it  is  necessary  to  review the work of
training the car crews.
hor many months, British Columbia Electric
Railway officials had foreseen exceedingly difficult
operating conditions when the rule of the road changed. Aside from the mechanical problem, there was
the keeping of cars on schedule, the preventing of
accidents and the general education of the public, so
that the cars should not be slowed up unnecessarily.
The traffic department first set out to inform its
staff of inspectors and on the morning of January
1, a full force was on duty by the time the first cars
came out.
Next, through bulletins and the company magazine devoted to employees' affairs, it urged caution
and gave details of operations under the new conditions. A detailed bulletin was prepared for each line
separately, showing the car crew exactly the condition of switches, the points where slow speed was
imperative and the like. A general appeal for caution and safety was issued just prior to the change.
The public was taken in charge likewise by the
company. For two months previous to the change,
the company conducted a "Safety First" campaign,
features of which were a booklet on teaching safety,
issued to every school teacher in
the district, numbering 1,700, and
a "Safety" essay competition. A
leaflet was issued to automobile
owners   and   drivers   and   mailed  by
Page Ptarleen
 the provincial government along with windshield
stickers. Of these leaflets, 29,000 were printed by the
company. In all, 110,000 pieces of printed matter,
devoted exclusively to the change in the rule of the
road were issued by the company, not to mention
other references and full page newspaper advertisements in all Vancouver, Victoria and New Westminster daily papers. The work done by the eompany
was commented upon by the Vancouver Sun thus:
"The B. C. Electric from the first assumed responsibility for making the streets safe during and
after the change. The B. C. Electric went to a great
deal of trouble and expense to inform and advise
the public how to conduct themselves to obviate accidents."
When the rush hour of the first business day in
January arrived, it was found impossible to maintain
schedules. One reason was that trolleys frequently
left the wire. On the first trip on one line, seven
miles in length, the trolley came off the wire ten
times. Gradually this difficulty was removed. The
switches, however, had been worn in one direction
and rough corners often projected, tending to throw
cars off the track. In several cases this did actually
happen. The result was that with the general campaign for safety, coupled with the
desire of car crews to keep their cars
on the track at any cost, cars made
much slower speed on curves. On
Tuesday, cars got half an hour or
tagt Fifteen
 f\ ^:  :•:        -
more behind time, and it was impossible to regain it.
At the intersection of Hastings and Main Streets,
where cars cross at the rate of one a minute, congestion occurred because of the decreased capacity
of this crossing owing to slower speed. Serious
delays occurred for a week or more
The accidents either to street cars or to vehicles
in general were practically negligible. No collisions
between street cars and vehicles were reported. Qne
or two collisions between automobiles took place but
the accidents reported were actually fewer than under
ordinary  conditions.
The work on the cars and on the tracks is only
half done. The first work on the cars is to place
the gates on the right-hand side and thus prevent
any possible accidents. This entails cutting new
rods and levers. Ten thousand ball-bearings were
ordered for the gates alone. Next, the front bulkheads, or the partition between the motorman's vestibule and the main body of the car, must be altered
to allow a door on the right-hand side. The wire
netting on the right-hand windows must be placed
on the left. The front doors must be put on the
door-operating levers. Finally, the temporary barricade on the left side must be removed, the old
steps removed and the whole side permanently
boarded up. This will require a year and a half
of further work.
Additiortal copies oj this booklet may be obtained at Information
Bureau, Carroll street station, Vancouver; at Vancouver and New
Westminster ticket offices of the B. C. Electric; at B. C. Electric
showrooms in Vancouver and New Westminster; or at Publicity
Department, 3&4 B. C. Electric Building, Vancouver. On receipt of
stamped, addressed envelope, the publicity department will mail a
copy to any address desired.


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