Here are a couple of letters to theSun on the federally funded project to upgrade the Penang Hill Railway written by tram engineer Ric Francis and heritage activist Dr Choong Sim Poey.
Ric has his say here:
As an experienced engineer who was responsible for the alternative proposal for the up-grading of the Penang Hill railway, that the NGOs presented to the Ministry of Tourism, I am insulted by the accusation that my system will be a clone. It is obvious that the JKR has neither learnt from the 1905 failure of the first Penang Hill railway which was a one-stage system similar to what is being proposed nor studied the original report prepared by the engineer who built the existing railway.
I have the support of several Japanese and American railway experts who say that my proposal is far superior to that of the JKR as it will result in a system that will be cheaper, safer, as efficient and preserves one of the world’s heritage railways.
Most funiculars follow a straight route of even gradient whereas the track of the Penang Hill railway dips up and down and winds from side to side on a very difficult terrain. When it was first commissioned it was regarded as an engineering triumph and even today many railway experts regard it as a unique technical marvel that is worth preserving.
There is no advantage in taking tourists to the summit at top speed if they are going to be dizzy and if their ears are to pop and hurt. One the other hand, with my proposal visitors will be taken up the hill at a slower speed that is safer, more comfortable and more enjoyable.
It is also obvious that the JKR has not fully considered the implications of having to move the bottom track 5 ft higher and 15 ft to the left on a steep slope 1200 ft above sea level on a hill that receives a lot of rain. Any landslides will have very serious implications for the whole project.
It is to be noted also that if the railway is upgraded according to the JKR proposal, it will become the longest single-stage funicular in the world. That may be a cause of pride, but it may well be a recipe for failure. So beware.
3 August 2009
And Dr Choong here:
The PHT would like to respond to the letter from the Secretary General of the Ministry of Tourism on the reasons for their adoption of the more expensive single stage system for Penang Hill Funicular Railway (Sun 27/07/2009).
As mentioned by Datuk Ong, the NGOs have been involved in discussions over the best solution for improving this historic icon and industrial heritage. We believe we have explained why from almost every aspect, from engineering, logistics, cost and the social disruption of the hill residents, our proposal to upgrade by retaining the original two-stage system wins hands down. As this is a massive project using public funds, we feel an obligation to make our views public on behalf of the NGOs.
In a long letter none of the issues we raised were addressed satisfactorily or meaningfully. To suggest that the system that Ric Francis proposed will be a clone, is inferior and will not last as long as the JKR system is either to deliberately misunderstand the proposal or to distort it. We wish to re-state firmly that the alternative proposal we put up with Ric will last as long, be as safe (if not safer, because the speed is slower) and as reliable, and have the same capacity.
In addition no convincing reasons were given for rejecting a proposal that is much cheaper, faster to implement, less disruptive to the local people and preserves the entire heritage value of the system and not just the viaducts and tunnel. The only merit of the JKR system is that it is more expensive, it seems to us.
Taking tourists straight up the top at 10 times the present speed in an air-conditioned coach is to deprive them of the pleasure of the leisurely trip that enables them to experience and savour the delightfully charming journey. The change in the middle station is not a negative point and no tourist has complained. It is part of the heritage characteristic.
Suggesting that the system the Ric proposed will result in a clone is to misunderstand how complex engineering systems are put together. All engineering systems, even the family automobile or the lap-top computer, are assembled from components sourced from different manufacturers, but that does not make them clones. No manufacturer makes every component it uses. Similarly the new funicular will be assembled from components made by different suppliers. If Ric’s proposal will result in a clone, so will the JKR system.
At least 80 per cent of the present mechanical equipment is still in good working condition and will last another 80 years or more. This is 30 years longer than the JKR system which the Secretary General has stated, will last 50 years. All that is required in the Ric Francis proposal is to change the motors and the gears. There is no excuse or reason for replacing them
Nowhere in his letter did the Sec-Gen show that he is sympathetic to the travails that the local residents and hawkers will go thorough during the 10-month shut-down. About 50 people are totally dependent on the railway for access to the town and the Sec Gen has their names. How will the children go to school? How will the older folks go to the city in an emergency?
By ordinary standards the earthworks is small, but please remember that the site is 1,200 ft up a steep slope in an area that is known for its heavy rainfall. By any standard, it will be a challenging site. Also is the Sec-Gen. aware of the point Ric made in a letter which appeared below his: to join the two tracks one of them will have to be raised by 5 ft and shifted to one side by 15 ft. All things considered we doubt if the job can be done in 10 months.
Before making a final decision we sincerely suggest the Minister of Tourism and the Sec Gen make a visit to the site to talk to the people who will be most affected and to see the actual conditions.’
28 July 2009