Penang streets too narrow for trams?


For those who think the streets of George Town are too narrow for trams, what do you make of this?

A tram in Lisbon - Photograph courtesy of Ric Francis
A tram in Lisbon – Photograph courtesy of Ric Francis

That’s a photograph last week of a tram running in Lisbon, Portugal.

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  1. Trams are extensively found in east European countries, a legacy of the central planning economy of the Warsaw Pact era. They were originally built to provide cheap and affordable public transport to the masses.

    The arguments for trams are: i. They don’t pollute and are cheap to operate. ii. They move on tracks which make their paths fixed. This is important as those trams have to negotiate through historic narrow streets and lanes. iii. The managers can put in additional trams during peak hours and reduce them during low period. iv. Trams have priority over cars, especially so at traffic lights. v. Vehicles may not cut into tram lanes from a certain marked distance to a road junction.

    The net effect being that we can have a stress free ride and can still be swift in a tram as in a car.

  2. Tram systems in Europe cities are largely legacy systems, a few older than 100 years before there were cars. The Spanish also build one in old Manila in the early 20th century.

    Originally these systems were profitable because since cars came after they were invented, urban planning was done to take into account so cars never went into these old urban quarters e.g. they put the commercial centres away from these places so fewer cars.

    Since they started to built the subway system in Lisbon, as with everywhere else, the ridership of these trams have decline year after year such that they need to be subsidized.

    • Cheers Kopi-O kau kau. Who knows what the multiplier effect it will have on inner city George Town. Ric, our tram sifu can help in the proposal. Never try, never know.

  3. I think you are missing the point, the photo was to show that the tram can go in any street , The rubbish been stated ,need to look at great cities in Europe and in Australia working well with both tram & LRT You are missing the point Buses cause polution look at the slow decay of building in Georgetown. Fumes from buses are the problem Greening is what most people want these days.

    • “Buses cause polution look at the slow decay of building in Georgetown”.
      All the more for greening the inner city. If space is a constraint, go vertical greening (a gardening practice of planting on vertical walls/spaces). It will absorb the acidic carbon dioxide / monoxide & also provide more cooling oxygen in an already hot climate.
      Tram is the appropriate answer to Penang inner city streets to serve both the locals & tourists. Of course double parking in small lanes has to go. BRT can complement running along wider roads like Weld Quay or Jelutong Expressway supported by transit point parking bay. Tesco is one great idea for such already built parking facilities (why spend more). The Pesta site with ample back areas too can serve such parking purpose.
      So no need to build MRT, tunnels or other super-expensive Cosmopolitan ‘changih’ make-overs.
      All we need are trams, BRT & transit point parking bays solutions made to blend in / complement with Penang’s environment & tourism sites.
      Only then we talk about safe cycling – pedal or electric.
      Customize transport solutions according to Penang’s needs, not to the fancies of the Satu Lagi Projek Feds 367km away from the reality world of Penang ‘tau thia’ transportation.

      This is one sore point (of coming GE13) the Federal gomen is causing anger in Penangites, not too different from the abolishment of duty-free to serve the fancies of one ApaNama-Dia in Langkawi.

  4. Good calcs but very bad assumptions. For 200 units of Auto Tram, it will spread very thinly over Penang. Vehicles do not travel ONE Way. With one down and th other up, public have to wait at least 0.5 hours interval for the next auto tram to come. What happen during off peak for Auto Trams running in Penang? It will call Ghost Trams of Penang.

    • Plus the existing raping penang buses and the other 200 promised by the federal government, it is better than nothing especially the unnecessary removal of old trees and the scandalous 13km road widening precedent which will open the gate for future abuses.

  5. Sorry wrong calculation, just the scandalous RM70million, we can buy 20 units of AutoTram. With the scandalous RM780million road widening budget we can buy more than 200 units of AutoTram. You will more than enough AutoTram to serve both the island and the mainland.

  6. If we use the scandalous RM70million tree removal budget on Green Lane to buy the AutoTram. We can afford to buy 70,000,000/(1,250,000*3)=2 units of the AutoTram. If we use the scandalous RM780million 13km road widening budget, we can easily buy 20 units of AutoTram and let it run on the island. If we use 4 of the AutoTram to run on Penang Bridge. Another 4 to run on The FTZ, another 4 to run for certain industrial zones on the island, we can use the remaining 8 for the coastal road from telok Bahang to Queensbay aHitam. We need to buy a few more to complete the remaing routes on the island.

  7. More on Autotram from the daily mail of UK.
    It is developed by the boffins of the Fraunhofer Institute for Traffic and Infrastructure Systems, the bus is nearly 101 feet long, has four steering axles and can carry 256 passengers.

    The big bendy bus premiered in the eastern city of Dresden on Sept 2012 where it will soon roll into service with the local transportation authority on trial runs as Beijing and Shanghai placed their orders for the vehicle which costs $1.25 million per bus.

    ‘The innovation of the AutoTram lies not only in its length, but most of all in its ability to be manoeuvred like a conventional 12 metre (39ft) city bus.
    ‘There’s no problem with the manoeuvrability and stability, but we have to see how such a long bus affects normal city traffic.’

    It combines the passenger capacity of a small train with the manouverability of a bus and runs on a hybrid engine that kicks in when the electric batteries run down, charging them as it propels the vehicle.
    Bus drivers will not require a special licence to drive the long, bendy bus thanks to a unique computer steering system which keeps the length of the bus precisely in line with the front carriage.
    The system is less expensive to run and cheaper to put into operation than a rail commuter system, prompting other cities to inquire about the super-sized buses.

    Dr Klinger said: ‘The AutoTram has a considerable advantage compared to light rail systems.’
    While it is the longest bus in the world, the bus with the largest capacity is China’s New Liner Series which has 300 seats on a 82ft bus.

    One masy ask:
    How can a vehicle of this enormous size cope with the tight bends of city traffic? Is it a hazard to other traffic participants? How can the AutoTram® be maneuvered forward and reverse?

    Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Transportation and Infrastructure Systems IVI took up the challenge to make extra-long vehicles maneuverable in city traffic. This was achieved by equipping the vehicle with four steered axles in addition to the fixed main drive axle. A multiaxle steering system, developed and tested at the Fraunhofer IVI, has been implemented in the AutoTram® Extra Grand for the first time.
    With this steering system, the vehicle has the maneuverability of a 12-meter city bus and can be operated by any licensed bus driver in the traffic network, forward and reverse. The AutoTram® Extra Grand was developed and constructed by seven partners within the Innovative Regionale Wachstumskerne research program, initiated by the German Federal Ministry of Research and Education (BMBF). The vehicle’s maneuverability is an important requirement for obtaining an approval. The German regulations for the operation of vehicles in passenger transport (BOKraft) require a turning radius of 12.5 meters, which is kept by the vehicle. As the AutoTram® Extra Grand has a tram-like swept path, the hazard to cyclists and pedestrians is smaller than with an 18-meter articulated bus.

    Richard Kiemer, who has been employed at the AutoTram®Extra Grand’s manufacturer Göppel Bus for many years, steered the giant vehicle through Dresden’s narrow roads when it was first presented to the public in August 2012. The well-experienced expert concludes: »I have been driving 24-meter buses with passenger trailers for several years. Now it is 6 meters more, which is again a challenge for me. But with this vehicle, I will be able to manage bends just the same«.
    Liu Xiaoming, director of Beijing’s public transport, also had the pleasure of sitting behind the wheel and taking a test drive in the AutoTram® Extra Grand. His comment on the ride: »This bus has the look of a ship and drives like a car – quite comfortable«. The vehicle’s length obviously does not scare him. He ought to know – Liu Xiaoming manages a fleet of 220,000 vehicles.

  8. There is a new type of vehicle which is a dual mode trambus. A trambus can run on tram or train tracks and is also capable of driving on the road. It has the transportation capacity of a train and the versatility of a bus.The multi-unit vehicle with rubber tires is more than 30 meters long and has a capacity of 256 passengers. Autotram is one of the leading trambus manufacturer. This type of dual mode vehicle is most suitable to compliment Bus Rapid Transit.

    Due to the advantages of the vehicle concept a wide range of applications in different fields of public transport is possible. The AutoTram is a cost-efficient alternative to conventional transport systems if a high capacity, low environmental impact and above average flexibility are required.

    1) Supplement to conventional buses
    Lower environmental impact
    Higher transport capacity
    Low track width requirements
    Higher flexibility

    2)Alternative to trolley buses
    Comparable environmental standards
    Lower infrastructure costs
    Higher transport capacity
    More suitable for deviations

    3) Alternative to light rail concepts
    Comparable environmental standards and transport capacity
    Significantly lower infrastructure costs
    Distinctly lower life cycle costs

    4) Supplement to bus rapid transit systems
    Efficient public transport system
    High manoeuvrability
    Cost-efficient, flexible and environment-friendly

    You can take a look at trambus at

  9. If you want a tram be prepared to close the road for other mode of vehicles. If you are not prepare to do so, please forget about it.In certain parts of Europe, trams are the preferred vehicle because the roads are closed for other mode vehicle most of the time especially during peak hour. Big cities in Europe tend to have trams because of the huge number of pedestrians with very limited vehicle on the roads. Are we reaching a stage where the people preferred public transit other than private vehicle? You can implement tram along Beach street, but are you prepared to get rid of road side parking, stopping other mode of vehicles to enter during certain hour, build parking bays some where and force private vehicle to park there and take tram to the destination at Beach street? Be real! Learn to crawl, before you stand, before you learn to walk, to run. Get your priority right! Be rational and not just be emotional and sentimental!

  10. Tram can only operate on a very wide road or only at a very narrow back lane, not on a street which is too busy with other vehicles and not wide enough to cater for this type of slow moving vehicle. Be real! No tram on Penang island. Stop your day dreaming!!

  11. According to wikipedia, the following is the disadvantages of tram:
    1) Tram infrastructure (such as island platforms) occupies urban space at ground-level, sometimes to the exclusion of other users.
    2) The capital cost is higher than for buses, even though a tramcar usually has a much longer lifetime than a bus.
    3) One study concluded that it would cost less to buy new fuel efficient cars for the low income riders of light rail who do not have cars than it does to subsidize light rail.[49] However, others assert the study was “poorly researched and analytically deficient”[50] or otherwise deficient.[51]
    4) Trams can cause speed reduction for other transport modes (buses, cars) when stops in the middle of the road do not have pedestrian refuges, as in such configurations other traffic cannot pass whilst passengers alight or board the tram.
    5)When operated in mixed traffic, trams are more likely to be delayed by disruptions in their lane. Buses, by contrast, can sometimes manoeuver around obstacles. Opinions differ on whether the deference that drivers show to trams—a cultural issue that varies by country—is sufficient to counteract this disadvantage.
    6) Tram tracks can be hazardous for cyclists, as bikes, particularly those with narrow tyres, may get their wheels caught in the track grooves.[52] It is possible to close the grooves of the tracks on critical sections by rubber profiles that are pressed down by the wheelflanges of the passing tram but that cannot be lowered by the weight of a cyclist. If not well-maintained, however, these lose their effectiveness over time.
    7) When wet, tram tracks tend to become slippery and thus dangerous for bicycles and motorcycles, especially in traffic.[52][53][54] In some cases, even cars can be affected.[55]
    8) Steel wheel trams are noisier than rubber-wheeled buses or trolleybuses when cornering if there are no additional measures taken (e.g. greasing wheel flanges, which is standard in new-built systems). In older trams, the wheels are fixed onto axles so they have to rotate together, but going around curves, one wheel or the other has to slip, and that causes loud unpleasant squeals. A related improvement is rubber isolation between the wheel disc and the rim, as used on Boston (Massachusetts, U.S.) Green Line 3400 and 3600 series cars. These cars are much quieter than those with solid metal wheels. (This construction requires a flexible cable to electrically connect the tire to the wheel body.)[citation needed]
    9) Trams usually have less effective suspension systems than buses, which tends to negate the ride quality benefits of steel rails.[citation needed]
    10)The opening of new tram and light rail systems has sometimes been accompanied by a marked increase in car accidents, as a result of drivers’ unfamiliarity with the physics and geometry of trams.[56] Though such increases may be temporary, long-term conflicts between motorists and light rail operations can be alleviated by segregating their respective rights-of-way and installing appropriate signage and warning systems.[57]
    11)Rail transport can expose neighbouring populations to moderate levels of low-frequency noise. However, transportation planners use noise mitigation strategies to minimize these effects.[58] Most of all, the potential for decreased private motor vehicle operations along the trolley’s service line because of the service provision could result in lower ambient noise levels than without.
    In the event of a breakdown or accident, or even roadworks and maintenance, a whole section of the tram network can be blocked. Buses and trolleybuses can often get past minor blockages, although trolleybuses are restricted by how far they can go from the wires. Conventional buses can divert around major blockages as well, as can most modern trolleybuses that are fitted with auxiliary engines or traction batteries. The tram blockage problem can be mitigated by providing regular crossovers so a tram can run on the opposite line to pass a blockage, although this can be more difficult when running on road sections shared with other road users or when both tracks happen to be blocked. On extensive networks diversionary routes may be available depending on the location of the blockage. Breakdown related problems can be reduced by minimising the situations where a tram would be stuck on route, as well as making it as simple as possible for another tram to rescue a failed one.
    12)The most nowadays advantage of tram – the other road(secluded paths to avoid traffic), which often cannot be crossed by other vehicles(by law, or physical lacking of the other path) can be achieved nowadays in other ways, sometimes cheaper for the whole new system like ULTra or sometimes just by secluded bus roads, with petrol/gas or electric buses(in this case even some commuters like Paris and BHNS (fr. Bus àHaut Niveau de Service, eng. High Level Service Bus) ordered buses looking similar to new trams, e.g. Solaris Urbino 18 Hybrid MetroStyle).

  12. Excerpt from wikipedia on tram:
    All transit services, except personal rapid transit, involve a trade-off between speed and frequency of stops. Services that stop frequently have a lower overall speed, and are therefore less attractive for longer trips. Metros, light rail, monorail, and bus rapid transit are all forms of rapid transit, which generally signifies high speed and widely spaced stops. Trams are often used as a form of local transit, making frequent stops. Thus, the most meaningful comparison of advantages and disadvantages is with other forms of local transit, primarily the local bus.

  13. Tram is a slow moving vehicle for pedestrians. It can only be build at back lane not on the main street without causing traffic congestion. What you see is a back lane tram not one on the main road. Do you expect to have a slow moving tram to run on the main arteries without causing problem? Please use your brain and open your eyes widely before jump into conclusion. Tram is characterize by it’s slow speed allowing pedestrian to jump on it or to alight from it without stopping. Trams are generally open, low-speed segmented vehicles on rubber tires, used to ferry tourists short distances. You can only allow tram to operate on back lane which is narrow without causing problem to traffic flow but not on the main streets.

  14. Penang is a tourist public transport. Who goes to Penang Hill for work or to meet someone for business appoint. If public transport is slow, then the public will prefer to use cars or even kap chais. Imagine, they have to wait up extra hour early to go to work or come home late. Or like in Bangkok, they spend more time in the vehicles. That is why in many public transport, they have X buses but not X trams.

  15. Penang is not a big island. Look at Hong Kong…..It has one of the world’s most efficient public transport facilities in the world. Is there any real planning going on ? Politics can wait.

  16. Hong Kong has no problems because the trams have their own lanes except at the traffic junctions where the vehicles have to encroach into the tram’s lanes to turn right. Trams can be good for tourists, short distances, senior citizens or those not in the hurry. Trams in HK Island is very slow. From Western District to the Eastern Part, it takes more than an hour. That is why trams or light rail in New Terrority suck as Long to Tuen Mun is very different. They do not share the lanes with any one or vehicles. They travel at faster speed.

  17. Hong Kong has no problems too! If there’s a will, there’s a way – just avoid the very narrow streets. No one suggests the narrow streets of Stewart Lane or Acheen Street!

  18. Commentators who are against trams in Penang are either: a) ignorant; or b) prejudiced against good public transport.

  19. This looks more congenial to old world charm Penang heritage enclaves. If speed is not an issue, a slow ride to take in the scenic & nostalgic inner city plus the unique lifestyle of multiculturalism will spell wonders of unforgettable impressions to the naked eyes of gawking tourists.
    Imagine seeing a Tan Tong Tong (an Indian) strumming his Yue Qin (Chinese moon guitar) and singing fortune with popular Hokkien ballads in the cool evening night at a street corner. Or salivating at Indian kueh-kueh with Laksa soup served hot & spicy from India bicycles. Or passing thro’ Canon Square’s festival parade of the Nine Emperor Gods in surreal ‘misty’ street of eye-tearing joss stick incense.
    For the enterprising tour agencies, this could be a tram of an opportunity to showcase a morning / evening / midnight tram tour of authentic old world George Town plus makan-makan of authentic Ori-Maestro street hawker food.
    But one place that had a recent make-over from nostalgic shady & mossy graveyard ambience to ‘White House’ white & bright desert sunshine facades of the ethereal homes of the sleeping dead is the Penang Christian Cemetery. I would have thought of a Penang Heritage Ghost Trail to include it in the itinerary. But, alas it now looks too ‘fake’ a cemetery to cause authentic goose-bumps. Did any ‘gau-gau’ smart alex of senseless heritage make-over ask Captain Francis Light whether he truly needs a sun tan?

  20. I can only assume that Lisbon has much less vehicles on their streets. Trams can definitely be built on narrow streets but they cannot be competing with cars and motorcycles and trishaws on a narrow street. Trams in Pg will likely displace traffic. I am all for replacing cars with trams in the city but the problem is we cannot be having both on the same road at the same time. Can we encourage Penangites to leave their cars at home and use the tram for travel around the city? Many will say yes because an efficient tram service will encourage ppl to use public transport. But it is still sort of a chicken and egg situation. Which should come first. To build the trams we have to get rid of cars on the road, perhaps pedestrianize some roads too, but to get rid of cars we need the trams to be working first. Otherwise what would people do? One way is to charge people who bring cars into the city similar to ERP and raise parking charges. On the other end, make the tram fares very affordable. Somebody has to figure all these out before we start building tram lines.


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