Penang Hill Railway: Hump of a problem?

Penang Hill Railway: Hump of a problem?

26 13

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.

The track alignment was dramatically altered in 2011 to bypass the Middle Station

As a result, a hump in the track was created at the Middle Station

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.


  1. My answer to Joseph Lim is you are part right but I checked with my Engineering friends finding that this railway does not have a hump at there middle station or have up an down dips in there track .This is where cables cause trouble with raising the cable to top of pulley. Note also speed is not that great at 8 km per time.

  2. I have repeatedly point out the important of public participant and consultation when come to major decision making as majority of all the politicians have no clue on what they were talking about. This is just a small price to pay for listening to the nonsense emanating from the developers or the so called think tank.
    I also really don’t understand what Ahmad Chik try to do after lgE refused to listen to his advice or opinion. What can Ahmad Chik do to rectify the present situation?

    • Ong EU Soon I never want to mention Anwar name just as Engineer, Anwar is a good friend if my friendship with him had not been I would not have been involved as much.My Penang book researching gave me alot of very important engineering information on the Railway.
      This whole affair has caused him great headache.
      Unless the State gets him back this problems will never go away,
      God bless Anwar for trying anyway

  3. I would like it Known as a friend of Penang Hill community ,I attend a special arrange meeting in KL with Federal members of Parliment to discuss the proposal of upgrading the old Hills railway. But the communty view was not taken .But a more expensive model.was taken.
    We explained a problem of one complete system, An that this distance over Penang Hill could cause alot of Technical Problem
    An this had never been done any where else. My advice was given as a Communty service, with no reward paided, but the satisfaction of help with my Engineers knowledge to a community.

    • RIC, your expertise and concern is greatly appreciated by all of us. But you must understand that the mindset of the Federal Members of Parlment had already been “fixed” All this invitation, discussion, forum is just a show “wayang kulit”

      That is why a much more expensive model was taken, (perhaps) spiced with lucarative commissions to be shared among them at the expense of tax payers & rakyat..

      All this had been going for donkey years since the dictatorial rule of the Dr.M.

      To me they are just “clowns” in a big circus (BN,MCA,MIC, Gelakan++) and this circus clowns are pocketing and playing with the rakyat”s money and what we need is just to neutralise them.

      THAT IS WHY ONLY WITH A CHANGE OF GOVERNMENT IN GE 13 will your views like many others be accepted and debated.

      Only with a change of government in GE 13 will this rot be stopped and unless it is done there will be a very bleak future for the next generation.

      So now it is important that all of us must seriously focus on GE13 to make sure that this change takes place. WE CANNOT AFFORD TO HAVE THOSE CLOWNS RUNNING THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AGAIN. They will definately bankcrupt the country.



  4. moot, if you do not need a car, then you wouldn’t have bought it in the first place. The fact is the tram is very much needed. It carries residents and visitors up the hill and in addition to that can make money for PHC through fare collections. My question is if you have been given a RM 100k car for free and you sorely need it, wouldn’t you spend the 20k to ensure that it runs without any hassle and embarassment? Right now the fare is RM 8 for citizens and 20 for foreigners which is substantial yet there are thousand waiting to go up daily. I think this is a good money making machine for PHC. The proceeds of which can be used for conservation of the hill.


    • Thanks Ric for again a valuable insight.

      This is not blame blame. Moving forward for every tender (be it satu lagi projek) must be transparent with thourogh experts’ view taken into consideration to avoid more White Elephants around that even the hills of Penang cannot accomodate them.

  6. My favorite sanctuary of Penang Hill which I sought out for serenity of mind, body & spirit is now not exactly what it was 20+ years ago.

    The slow ride, the quaint farms, the cool & wet tunnel, the colonial architectures, the huge size floras, the mist, the quiet meandering hill road to Tiger Hill & the bungalow with the European style weather cock (weather vane), all have impacted my psyche about what a hill resort should be like in the middle of hot Equatorial tropics.
    I could still remember one 7am, Saturday morning of 1990 (after getting away from dirt-heavy politicking in a KL ad agency) I was walking the quiet misty & moist hill road with streaming morning sunlight, the birds & bees at work & a shy cobra slowly slipping into the roadside ferns. The cool air seeping into my exposed skin reinvigorating my 6 senses & heightening my awareness of the physical & spiritual realms of this hill sanctuary. The narrow tar road with cobwebbed colonial street lamps still lit yellow was empty except my childlike soul filled with ultimate joy of being back at my serenity hill. (I was the first passenger to walk out of the carriage with a few others at the top station that morning).
    I can’t imagine the present thousands of tourists cramming & creating noise pollution in a small hill resort which capacity can only hold so much of a few scores, one at a time.
    In fact the nature of Penang Hill is not meant to be like Genting Highlands, not at all. Chosen as a convalescent hill for the tired British servants, it was well developed with care, thought & nature understanding by the British & Europeans with technology & botany skills suited for their time & are still relevant today.
    But, alas for the itchy minds for feverish profiteering & self enrichment, Penang Hill was an unfortunate target of insane, super expensive upgrading, going against mother nature of this serenity hill. The other unfortunate target was Penang Botanic Gardens. Under the pretext of Federal funding for public & tourism infrastructure upgrading, the hill railway development went about indifferent to the concerns of Penangites. It was a vulgar intrusion of surreal proportion of our public heritage spaces not unlike the violent rape of Penan’s rainforest in the name of bringing development to the interiors. (And it still continues to this day with Darth Vader’s ugly incongruities). There was no alternative, cost effective solution to be tabled & considered in depth. And this was not the kind of development (without souls) that we wanted for Penang Hill.
    Who was the smart alec who thought Penang Hill should ‘transgender’ into a 5 minute-Speedy Gonzales with vulgarity & impunity against nature when Penang Hill was already as good as Audrey Hepburn of classic slow & unforgettable mesmerizing (personal) experience.

    To this day after the classic slow ride train was taken to RIP, I have not for a second thought about taking a hellish ride of insanity in one of these fridge train carriages of unexpected hazards & breakdowns up the old Penang Hill. I still prefer the heavy breathing & straining of hiking up the hill while enjoying the occasional nature’s welcome of my faithful soul who untiringly comes back for more via the hill treks.

  7. Mr Ric Francis
    I think people value your input.
    People (or Rakyat fyi) also know that this train purchased by Federal Gomen may be programmed to fail once in a while to discredit present local gomen.
    If you are still in Penang, you can read about the Star’s bashing coincides with every breakdown.

    • I do not intend to blame any party but the fact is that the tram has been given to Penang Hill Corporation to run for more than a year now. If there are any faults in anything, the responsibility lies with the current managers to get it rectified. Everyone knows the tourism minister is not going to come and fix it for you no matter how much you cry or shout. We can’t be waiting forever for the problems to be solved. As I said, the rest of Asia is moving fast, nobody is going to wait for us to conduct a blame game. It may be true that the federal govt. did not do things right the first time but now that it is in the hands of PHC, they better make it right, and make it fast. At the very least they can show the tourism ministry and Malaysians that they are capable of correcting problems created in the past. It will look really good on their record. Why not take advantage of this opportunity.

      • Kevin, do you notice that “fixing” need money? A god know how the hell BN bloated to 70mils trams need LOTS OF MONEY to fix?

        In Malaysia (AKA Bolehland) , there is tons of sinking cost white elephant wondering around, will fall dead ASAP when federal government bail out run dried.

        Just imagine, if you bought a 100k cars that need 20k of “fixing”; while you can make good use of 20k to do other stuff and can live without the car, will you spend 20k on your car?

      • moot, you are cent-sibly right since Penang state gomen has no big coffers to spend on frequent maintenance (of somebody’s profitable Satu Lagi Projek projects) like the Feds.
        My 2 (60s square-shaped) cents suggestion:
        1) Tear down the irrelevant fridge trains & rails & all the stray-dog-proned parts & sell them to scrape metal yards,
        2) Rebuild back to original 60s Penang Hill slow-ride train carriage with open air-flow windows & original pulley machine with grease smell & long lasting Swiss parts.
        3) Forget about catering for one thousand or more tourists at any one time. It makes no sense on a small hill!
        Time for Kopi-O kau kau stirred with a pinch of salt!

    • Joseph, I hope yopu do not make statement about my report,
      As a Mechanical Engineer of 50 years Knowledge ,I inspected the Railway over with the then Engineer, Found flaults with Track at Hump with both Cable jumping and Electric contacts not connecting level causing problem,I will say no more

      • If there is a hump, one cheap solution is to slow down to avoid any”jumping” off.

        BWT, why discountinue the middle station. They should have the middle station to allow O/S Backpackers or NS trainees to explore or climb up to the top!!! More activities rather than what goes up must come down. Boring, No fun.

  8. Bad sign for pakatan. After pakatan in power, many things normally WORKABLE suddenly have problems. Should change gomen to reverse the problems. Life is difficult under pakatan. We hear protests/demos from small traders. But we hear the loudest cheers from MEGA property developers. So sad ~

    • GERAKAN K – you are out of touch with reality. Better shut up or fly kites plus join “Mr. No B…” to help carry PM Najis bag.(you have a few months left before GE 13 then no b… no bags)

      SOOMUCH GOOD CHANGE HAS COME TO PENANG since 2008 and you are still in Disneyland and sleeping on Dreamland.


      Not only that, we Malaysians will give PAKATAN RAKYAT a chance to rule and administer for 5 years.

      So u better jump like a frog before its too late.

  9. Barisan Nasional cronies know all, except common sense and logic.

    OTH, there is one huge paradigm shift on technology that may rendered such “public transport capital infrastructure” obsolete : electric personal transport. With the 70 millions and AT LEAST 5% annual maintenance cost, this is just another Bolehland(TM) ridiculous 70’s mindset. A bare minimum “cheap” tram that fetch much less people cost no more than RM 10 millions and with plenty of electric bicycle and a few electric cart-car hardly cost more than RM 5 millions.

    Tourist who want “fast fast go up the hill”, should just go to shopping malls to spend their “valuable time” and enjoy “free cool air” there. I don’t see how “enjoyable” when the 70mils trams “shoot up” 30~40 people in 5 minutes.. Then within hours, the hills is crowed by tons of “boring” people. But because of the expensive ride, people keep wondering around, few of this “quickie” realise that, the “walking” trails is full fauna and flora. And hell no, this is not snow path of Alps that you can skid down 40km/h, which make you want to go up ASAP to train your skiing skill. If you just want to “go on top of the Penang Hill”, well, go download photo, it is quicker and cheaper.

    IMHO, these Penang hill “rush-hour tram” will not last. Soon it will go deep read and asking for bail out. If this happens, Penang government should let it go and implement a “slow touring” system for Penang hill.

  10. I believe the problem lies in the maintenance of the tram and its integrated infrastructure. The tram was built and designed by a swiss company specialising in such projects and I know how stringent and uncompromising the swiss are when it comes to the design and quality of their goods. Unlike Malaysians, they take pride in the work they do and again unlike Malaysians, they are actually ashamed when something goes wrong. Thus they take extreme measures to ensure everything is close to perfect if not perfect.

    Now we on the other hand are incapable of maintaining something so simple. I have said this b4. Sg has 4 MRT lines each over 40km long with six carriages travelling at 6 min intervals. They run early in the morning until late at night and all maintenance works are done behind the scene without any interruption to service. Breakdowns occur only once in a few years. Even then the CEO had to retire later on. We on the other hand have one simple line with two carriages which is less than 5km long running only once in 30 mins and yet we have breakdowns every few months, sometimes bi-monthly. The same goes to the monorail in Malacca. It all boils down to maintenance and a system and SOP for doing things right. It is extremely shameful. I am not Malaccan so I do not really care about things there but as a Penangite I do not want the world to think that Penangites are lazy, negligent and incapable of doing work. The trains in Sg are also swiss made and many are over a decade old, yet performs at tip top conditions. The state must start by appointing the right ppl for the right job. Put ppl who have experience in managing rail lines well. If that person later proves incapable, give the opportunity to others. It is quite a simple concept. Why wait and wait and provide ammunition for the opposition to use. The world is not going to wait for us. Even China can run bullet trains now.

    • The project was undertaken by a Singapore company. The Swiss company only supplied the coach, it did not involved in the design of the railway. If the Swiss company is involved in the railway design, you can be guaranteed that such a `high speed, high load,and non straight railway with a hump will not be a reality. It is the Kai su and bo kai lu see attitude with the Bolehlanders that came out with such a no brainer solution ignoring the historic lesson of the train.

  11. Dear Anil, Is this a federal government’s irresponsibility or the present state government’s responsibility?
    In future please specify which party is responsible, especially now when the election is near.
    The Batu Caves condominium was approved by BN, but now, the people, led by MIC protested and pointed fingers at Pakatan Rakyat…..
    Is the Penang Hill railway incident another case like Batu Caves?
    Reading the story in The Star by Kow Kwan Yee, PHC general manager said, there was no train service on one of the days.Maintenance it seems..
    How can this be allowed. Maintenance should be done at night. In the tourism industry the money wheel cannot be stopped.

  12. Are they signalling through the tracks? It seems incomprehensible that a loss of ancillary power would result in loss of control. The instrumentation should be redundantly battery-backed.


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