The Penang Hill Railway first started out as a single continuous track to the summit. Work began in 1898 and the track was opened in 1906 – but it didn’t work.
In 1923, a new line designed by Arnold R Johnson was completed after rigorous study – this time with a break at the Middle Station serving to divide the alignment into two separate sections. The system appeared to work well, standing the test of time.
But in 2011, under a controversial RM73m project a new alignment was built to bypass the Middle Station and once again a single continuous track from the bottom station to the summit came into use. The project, funded by the federal government and endorsed by the Penang state government, was welcomed by those who wanted a quicker, more comfortable ride up Penang Hill. But heritage enthusiasts expressed serious reservations about the new system while others preferred the old, slow ride up the hill to savour the natural habitat.
This single continuous track (bypassing the Middle Station) has come with a number of technical challenges. According to a concerned reader, an experienced railway engineer, a hump at the Middle Station is believed to be causing faults such as the cable jumping and electric contacts not connecting levelly.
The reader writes in, in response to a report in the press:
KOW KWAN YEE, your story in The Star today is interesting. But the problem was known a year ago.
But when the then Engineer (who is no long there) spoke, it was not taken as the cause.
The problem is situated at Middle Station and until this is corrected, it will keep on happening.
Member of The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in Australia Incorporated
Ric adds later:
I would like it to be known that, as a friend of the Penang Hill community, I attended a specially arranged meeting in KL with federal Members of Parliment to discuss the proposal of upgrading the old hill railway.
But the community view was not taken. (Instead) a more expensive model was taken.
We explained the problem of one complete system – and that this distance over Penang Hill could cause a lot of technical problems.
And this had never been done anywhere else. My advice was given as a community service, with no reward paid, but the satisfaction of help with my engineer’s knowledge to a community.
For now, the Penang Hill railway folks need to consult with other engineers while the Ric adds that the electrical problem could be solved by altering the electrical contact pickup.